A regional daily has won a court battle to make public secret documents which were withheld by nursing bosses following two babies’ deaths.
The Mail, based in Barrow-in-Furness, has won the 18-month-long Freedom of Information fight after it took legal action in its case against the Nursing and Midwifery Council earlier this year, as previously reported on HTFP.
The legal bid had been launched by The Mail investigations journalist Caroline Barber and former CN Group editor James Higgins when a Freedom of Information request seeking a copy of a review, which set out whether the nursing regulator was right not to suspend a midwife involved in the care of the two babies, was refused in 2016.
The review was finally released to The Mail on Wednesday following a hearing held in Manchester in March, and the newspaper splashed on its findings on Thursday.
An appeal to the Information Commissioner last year had previously failed to secure a copy of the document, known as the Kark Report, when the commissioner ruled she could not overturn the NMC’s right to legal professional privilege.
But the live legal case was referenced in last 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.
Said Caroline: “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 action it took in relation to the midwife, but that it contained confidential advice from its lawyer it was entitled to keep secret.
“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 report revealed 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.
An NMC spokesman 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.”