According to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, the investigation into serial killer Lucy Letby’s crimes will be made formal.
With the transition to a statutory basis, the investigation now has the authority to legally compel the testimony of witnesses, including both former and present members of the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust personnel.
The verdict was announced shortly after Letby, 33, was given a life sentence for the murder of seven newborns and the attempted murder of another six.
Mr Barclay said: “The crimes committed by Lucy Letby are truly harrowing, and my thoughts remain with the families of her victims.
“Following her conviction, we announced an inquiry and said the nature of this inquiry would be shaped by the families.
“Having now discussed this with the families, we will launch a full statutory inquiry giving it the legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.
“This statutory public inquiry will aim to give the families the answers they need and ensure lessons are learned.”
The planned inquiry aims to scrutinise the actions taken by regulators and the larger NHS while also looking at the overall backdrop of events at the Trust, including the handling of complaints and governance.
The investigation’s precise scope will be described in the inquiry’s terms of reference, which will be released soon.
The Health and Social Care Secretary is collaborating with colleagues from across Government to find a suitable candidate as quickly as possible. The Government stated it will look to select a judge to chair the inquiry.
Mr Barclay’s decision came in response to mounting pressure from the bereaved families and their solicitors for the investigation to be given legal standing.
A non-statutory investigation of the events at the Countess of Chester Hospital “was found to be the most appropriate option,” the ministers had previously stated.
Families of several of the newborns Letby assaulted have been represented by solicitors, who have welcomed the announcement and emphasised that “the inquiry would have been ineffective without these powers.”
Richard Scorer, head of abuse law and public inquiries at law firm Slater and Gordon, said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement that the Lucy Letby inquiry will be upgraded to a statutory inquiry.
“It is essential that the chair has the powers to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath, and to force disclosure of documents. Without these powers, the inquiry would have been ineffectual and our clients would have been deprived of the answers they need and deserve.
“This inquiry is essential for the parents of Letby’s victims, but it is also important for all of us.”
Dr Ravi Jayaram, one of the doctors who helped catch Letby by raising concerns to senior managers at the Countess of Chester Hospital, told ITV News: “I don’t understand why, right at the start, there was a rush to say it was going to be non-statutory.
“I’m glad this is going to be a public inquiry because no stone will be left unturned and questions that need to be asked will be asked and the answers will be found – unlike in a non-statutory inquiry where questions that will cause difficult or embarrassing answers won’t get asked.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting also welcomed the news, saying: “It’s right that the wishes of the families have now been taken into account.
“No stone can be left unturned in getting to the truth of this awful tragedy. Nothing short of the full force of the law would do.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “NHS leaders will welcome the announcement of the inquiry into what happened in Chester and that it will be on a statutory basis. It’s vital that lessons are learnt by the NHS, its regulators, clinicians and leaders.
“There are of course a series of questions that are being raised by the events in Chester and the inquiry will be best placed to establish the facts of these events and to draw conclusions and recommendations for the trust and the wider NHS.
“NHS leaders will support the work of the inquiry in whatever way they can.”