Similarities to how whistleblowers were treated when raising concerns about convicted child killer Lucy Letby have been seen across Yorkshire hospitals, it has been claimed.
At a York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust board of directors meeting, concerns were raised about how comfortable staff are at raising issues of colleagues’ clinical practice.
NHS staff can raise issues through ‘speak-up guardians’ like York Hospital’s Stefanie Greenwood, who presented a report to the board and told directors there are lessons to be learned from how complaints about Letby were treated prior to her arrest in July 2018.
“Although it’s a very extreme case, there are some lessons we can learn,” Ms Greenwood told the meeting yesterday (Wednesday).
She added that cases like Letby’s show “the price that we pay if we don’t listen to our staff” and that “silence ultimately kills patients.”
Ms Greenwood said: “Our staff currently do not feel safe to raise concerns.
“They fear reprisal and this can lead to unsafe patient care.”
She added: “I have seen similarities in how the Letby case was handled and staff being shut down and told they need factual evidence.”
Letby was jailed in August for a whole life term for murdering seven babies and trying to kill another six at Countess of Chester Hospital between 2015 and 2016.
Freedom to speak
Dawn Parkes, interim chief nurse at York and Scarborough’s hospital trust, said “any hint” of something wrong regarding patient care should be “explored,” even if there is no hard evidence of wrongdoing.
Jenny McAleese, a non-executive director at the trust, said: “There’s not many concerns raised about safety and quality and I just wonder whether we just need to have a bit of a conversation about that and make sure people know that the freedom to speak guardian is there.”
She added: “People are happy to raise concerns about people working while sick but there’s a bit of a reluctance to raise concerns about people’s clinical practice.”
Letby, 33, is only the third woman to receive a whole life order and is Britain’s most prolific child killer.
Many of her surviving victims have been left with life-altering conditions.
Dr Stephen Brearey told BBC Radio 4 in August that when he raised links between Letby’s constant presence during a spike in infant deaths at Chester hospital he was “put into mediation by senior managers.”
There has been an increase in concerns being raised across York and Scarborough hospitals in the last three years but these were mostly about ‘behaviours and relationships’ or ‘bullying and harassment.’
Simon Morritt, chief executive of York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “How easy it is to raise concerns is really important to us.”