A LACK of openness and honesty at the trust that runs Morecambe Bay’s hospitals caused ‘unnecessary pain and distress’ to a grieving family.

This was the conclusion of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in a report released this morning into what it described as the ‘tragic and avoidable’ death of a baby at Furness General Hospital, run by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT).

“We are publishing these reports as they highlight the need for more openness and transparency in the way hospitals and the wider health and social care system deal with complaints,” said Julie Mellor, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

“Hospitals and other health care providers have a duty to patients and their families to investigate their concerns properly.

“In these cases the trust failed to be open and honest about what went wrong and this caused the complainant and his family further unnecessary distress at a very difficult time.”

According to the report the ombudsman service investigated and upheld complaints about inappropriate email exchanges between hospital staff and the family, as well as the quality of the subsequent investigations following the death of the tot - named only as ‘G’ in the report.

Ms Mellor added: “When serious untoward incidents happen there needs to be an independent investigation which looks at the root cause of the complaint and the role of human factors such as people and the organisation’s culture.

“We expect all service providers to adopt this approach to help them understand why mistakes happen and help improve services for everyone.

“Our recommendations underline how important it is that trusts learn from complaints. This is what families want and deserve.”

Allegations of collusion among midwives in preparation for an inquest were also investigated, but later dropped.

Jackie Daniel, chief executive of UHMBT, said the trust ‘acknowledged and fully accepted’ the findings of the investigation.

“There is no doubt that the trust has badly let down the family following the tragic death of their baby in 2008,” she said.

“Clearly some of the actions highlighted by the ombudsman have caused further unnecessary distress and pain.

“This is completely unacceptable and we are truly sorry for this.”

The report comes just weeks after the ombudsman said staff at Furness General Hospital failed to identify poor midwifery practices which led to mother and baby deaths at the site.

That report, out in December, said midwives who should have supervised their colleagues did not spot serious errors.

Responding to the latest findings, Furness MP John Woodcock said the family of the baby had been ‘systematically let down’ by health watchdogs and managers.

"We must ruthlessly expose and overhaul any last vestiges of the appalling culture of health bosses closing ranks to cover themselves rather than addressing failings openly,” he said.

And South Lakes MP Tim Farron added: “This must never, ever happen again.”

Last year health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, ordered an investigation into maternity deaths at the site, to be chaired by Dr Bill Kirkup, a former deputy chief medical officer at the department of health.

The investigation will report back to government by this summer.