The statutory inquiry into events surrounding the crimes of former nurse Lucy Letby will be chaired by one of the country's most senior judges.
Letby, 33, was convicted on 18 August of murdering seven babies, and attempting to murder six others, while working as a neonatal nurse at the Countess of Chester Hospital between June 2015 and June 2016. She was sentenced to a whole-life term for her crimes, described by the trial judge, Mr Justice Goss, as "truly horrific".
Lady Justice Thirlwall will have legal powers to compel witnesses, including former and current staff of the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, to give evidence.
Inquiry Will Examine the Conduct of the NHS and Regulators
Announcing her appointment in the House of Commons on Monday, Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said the inquiry "will examine the case's wider circumstances, including the trust's response to clinicians who raised the alarm, and the conduct of the wider NHS and its regulators".
Mr Barclay told MPs he could not begin to imagine the hurt and suffering the families of Letby's victims endured, and that there was "a duty to get them the answers they deserve, to hold people to account, and to make sure lessons are learned".
The Department of Health and Social Care announced an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the killings shortly after Letby was sentenced. The inquiry was later placed on a statutory footing following pressure from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and others.
Tamlin Bolton, a clinical negligence lawyer at Switalskis Solicitors, which represents the families of seven babies who were victims of Letby, said in a statement: "It is fair to say that the horrific crimes committed by Letby have led to many more questions requiring vital answers so that the families involved can begin to process the events that have taken place. Given what is in the public domain so far around the circumstances of Letby's crimes, it is imperative that the families affected are heard if they are to have the highest confidence in the process."
Ms Bolton said she hoped the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust "demonstrate honesty and co-operation during the process and, ultimately, take accountability for what has happened". She hoped that the inquiry "will result in robust systems being implemented to ensure nothing like this can happen again".
Improving Patient Safety
In his speech to the Commons, Mr Barclay also addressed measures to improve patient safety.
He said the Government would take another look at the recommendation of the Kark review of the fit and proper persons test that called for powers to disbar NHS trust directors who were found to have committed serious misconduct. "In light of evidence from Chester, and ongoing variation in performance across trusts, I have asked NHS England to work with my department to revisit this," Mr Barclay said.
The Health Secretary also announced that Baroness Lampard, who led the Department of Health's inquiry into the crimes of Jimmy Saville, had agreed to chair the statutory inquiry into the deaths of patients on a mental health ward in Essex between 2000 and 2020.