THE boss of the UK's nursing regulator has admitted her organisation worsened the tragic situations of families who lost loved ones during Barrow's devastating maternity scandal.

Jackie Smith, chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, spoke on the issue as a starkly critical report into the NMC's handling of the Morecambe Bay cases was discussed during an NMC meeting in London today.

She told the meeting the organisation accepted all of the review's findings and had taken them very seriously.

"This is our opportunity to do things differently," she said.

"Let's not just look at what the law says, but remember the human being.

"I want to say sorry on behalf of the NMC to the families affected by our handling of the Morecambe Bay cases.

"We didn't listen to or show respect for their views, and we made a tragic situation worse."

Ms Smith, who announced her departure from the NMC just two days before the publication of the report, went on: "I also want to pay tribute to the families who took part in the PSA's review which was a very difficult process.

"The report has given us a lot to reflect upon.

"We're truly sorry for the distress caused."

An independent investigation of poor practice at Furness General Hospital between 2004 and 2013 found poor clinical practice, systemic failings and a toxic culture had caused the deaths of 11 babies and one mother.

The review of the NMC's behaviour towards the families struck by these avoidable deaths was published last month by the Professional Standards Authority - the UK's regulator of regulators.

It concluded the NMC had ignored warnings from Cumbria Police over the conduct of 22 midwives working at the Dalton Lane unit for two years - as well as dismissing the concerns of the families themselves.

It went on to find the regulator had failed to operate with transparency and the duty of candour it expects from its own registrants across the NHS.

Ms Smith's response to the controversial PSA report was criticised by three of the families affected; parents James Titcombe, Liza Davey Brady and Carl Hendrickson.

Each received a letter of apology from the outgoing chief executive, who had been at the helm of the NMC since 2014.

However, they described her refusal to take part in media interviews on the matter and the absence of a detailed response to the findings as 'shocking and unacceptable'.

But NMC chairman Phillip Graf said: "We are committed to listening to those families who have been badly let down and to acting on the important recommendations from the review."