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Hospital criticised over 'witch-hunt' to find botched surgery whistleblower

PUBLISHED: 17:44 11 December 2019 | UPDATED: 16:02 12 December 2019

West Suffolk Hospital bosses apologised for any distress caused to its doctors Picture: GREGG BROWN

West Suffolk Hospital bosses apologised for any distress caused to its doctors Picture: GREGG BROWN

Hospital bosses have defended a so-called "witch-hunt" which saw doctors asked for fingerprints - to identify staff members who blew the whistle on potentially botched surgery.

Susan Warby's father-in-law Frank confirmed his son Jon had received an anonymous letter about the care of his wife Picture: ARCHANTSusan Warby's father-in-law Frank confirmed his son Jon had received an anonymous letter about the care of his wife Picture: ARCHANT

Handwriting samples were also requested from medics at West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, over a "serious information breach" where an anonymous letter was sent to a patient's family.

Susan Warby died five weeks after a bowel operation carried out at WSH in August 2018.

After her death, a serious incident investigation was launched by the trust. An inquest is due to be held in January.

According to the 57-year-old's father-in-law Frank Warby, an anonymous letter sent to the family raised concerns over what happened during the procedure.

Sasha Savage, of UNISON eastern, branded the ordeal a Sasha Savage, of UNISON eastern, branded the ordeal a "witch-hunt" Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Now WSH chiefs have apologised for any distress caused during the probe - but stressed their approach was backed by the NHS' national head of whistleblowing.

'Family deserves answers, not a witch-hunt'

Union officials have slammed the ordeal, branding it a "witch-hunt".

Dr Rob Harwood, of the British Medical Association, said they are in touch with doctors at WSH and offering support to those who need it.

"Doctors must be able to raise concerns around risks to patient safety wherever they work, with the confidence that they will be listened to and free from fear that their job may be threatened as a result," he said.

"Attempts - as described here - to single-out or identify anonymous whistleblowers with genuine patient safety concerns, or intimidate wider staff to discourage them from coming forward in future sit completely at odds with commitments to protect those who speak up, and we condemn these behaviours in the strongest possible terms."

While Sasha Savage, UNISON Eastern's head of health, added: "Susan Warby's grieving family deserve answers, not a witch-hunt that will only add to the pressures stretched NHS staff are under."

'Clear reasoning' for investigation

WSH chiefs say that following concerns raised by staff, the investigation process was shared with the national head of whistleblowing for the NHS - who concluded the trust "demonstrated clear reasoning" and "good practice".

A spokesman added: "Any allegations of bullying are taken extremely seriously are thoroughly and urgently investigated, which is one of the reasons why we are among the top five NHS trusts in the country for having engaged, happy and empowered staff.

"We acknowledge that this has been a difficult and stressful experience for the staff involved, and for that we are sorry and will continue to reflect on this as an investigation."

Representatives for the Care Quality Commission said they were aware of the incident and subsequent investigation carried out by the trust.

"This was followed up directly with the trust and considered as part of our latest inspection which included a review of the trust leadership and governance," a spokesman said.

"We expect to report on the full findings from that inspection in the New Year."

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