A regional daily newspaper has won an 18-month battle to access a report withheld from the public by nursing bosses after the deaths of two babies.
The Kark Report set out whether the the Nursing and Midwifery Council was right not to suspend a midwife involved in the care of the two infants.
The Mail, in Barrow-in-Furness, first sent out a Freedom of Information request to gain access to the secret document in 2016, but this was rejected.
A legal bid was then launched by the paper’s investigations journalist Caroline Barber and former CN Group editor James Higgins seeking a copy of the review, known as the Kark Report.
An appeal to the Information Commissioner last year also failed to secure a copy of the document, when the commissioner ruled she could not overturn the NMC’s right to legal professional privilege.
But the live legal case was referenced in this week’s critical report of the NMC by the Professional Standards Authority – the UK’s regulator of regulators – which it said should be released as soon as possible.
The Mail, formerly known as the North-West Evening Mail, went to court in Manchester in March to gain access to the review.
It was finally released to the paper by the NMC on Wednesday last week following an urgent recommendation within a damning report that criticised the NMC’s behaviour in relation to the maternity cases at the Morecambe Bay NHS Hospital Trust.
Barber said: “Gaining access to the review has taken 18 months and many hours of work resulting in a court hearing, but we always felt it was strongly in the public interest and the right thing to do for the families involved.
“The NMC had said the report had concluded it had done nothing wrong in the decisions it took in relation to the midwife, but it refused to release the document itself, even hiring an information rights barrister to represent its case in court.
“This didn’t seem like the action of an organisation committed to learning and transparency, so we were left with no choice but to pursue disclosure through an Information Rights tribunal.
“We’re pleased the document has now been released. It’s disappointing though that the NMC failed to act with any transparency – something it demands from its own registrants – until it was left with no choice but to publish.”
The Kark Report revealed that the regulator was unlikely to have been able to secure an interim suspension order in relation to midwife Lindsey Biggs based on the evidence it held.
However, the report considered the evidence flawed and found the NMC had taken it solely at face value.
The Mail published its findings online and on its front page on Thursday last week.
An NMC spokesperson said: “We take the recommendations of the PSA’s lessons learned review seriously.
“In light of this we have undertaken a fresh balancing exercise and have decided that it’s now in the public interest for us to disclose Tom Kark QC’s legal opinion.
“In reaching this decision, we’ve also borne in mind that the fitness to practise proceedings against the midwives concerned have all now concluded.”