A REVERED patient safety expert has described the process used to clear two Barrow midwives of wrongdoing in a case that led to the death of a baby as a 'lamentable failure' in a letter to the government.

Dr Bill Kirkup, the man behind a controversial report into the Morecambe Bay maternity scandal, has now written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt to express his disappointment that evidence was withheld from a disciplinary hearing into the conduct of Furness General Hospital midwives Gretta Dixon and Catherine McCullough.

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The pair went on to be deemed fit to practice by the Nursing and Midwifery Council after being accused of failing in the standard of care they gave to Dalton mum Hoa Titcombe – whose newborn son Joshua later died.

An investigation by the Professional Standards Authority deemed the way the NMC handled the case had been "deficient".

The latest controversy over the quality of maternity care at FGH between 2004 and 2013 comes just days before two more midwives from Furness General Hospital – Holly Parkinson and Lindsey Biggs – are to face their own NMC disciplinary hearing in London.

Dr Kirkup wrote in his letter: "The response of professional regulators has fallen far short of expectations.

"The evidence presented in these cases was incomplete in several respects.

"Given the amount of evidence that was already available, the length of time that the NMC has had to prepare since, and the origin of these cases in the well-documented serious dysfunction of the maternity unit, this is a lamentable failure."

Dr Kirkup went on to outline his frustration that the NMC had failed to undertake a "robust investigative process" into the conduct of midwives named within the Morecambe Bay Investigation Report. 

He added: "That was what I had expected and I believe it was entirely reasonable for the families to have expected it too.

"It is a matter of significant regret that our expectations have not been borne out by what has transpired."

Ms Biggs and Ms Parkinson have been summoned to an NMC panel hearing set to begin on Wednesday.

They are accused of failings in the care they provided to baby Joshua as he battled a treatable infection after his birth in 2008. The little boy died aged nine days old.

He was among 11 babies said to have died needlessly at Barrow's hospital over a nine-year period when clinical skills were described as "substandard" and an impenetrable band of self-styled "musketeer" midwives were hostile to criticism and outside influence.

In response to Dr Kirkup's criticisms, Jackie Smith, chief executive and registrar of the NMC, said: “We are completely committed to ensuring our fitness to practise procedures continue to be stringent and put patient safety first. We have made considerable progress in recent years but we recognise that there is still more to do. 

"We take very seriously the treatment of witnesses and bereaved families and that is why we set up a dedicated witness liaison service which supports witnesses through what can sometimes be a stressful process. 

“We are keen to address all the concerns raised by the PSA in their press statement. We note that in this statement, the PSA say that they 'have found that the NMC’s investigation and its panel’s decisions were deficient but not insufficient in law.' We look forward to receiving the details of the PSA’s concerns and will respond accordingly.”