Suffolk hospital ‘witch hunt’ puts lives at risk

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A Suffolk hospital has been accused of secrecy, bullying and intimidation after a ‘witch hunt’ was carried out to identify a whistleblower who had raised concerns over a woman’s death.

Bosses at West Suffolk hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, demanded fingerprints and examples of handwriting from staff after an anonymous letter outlining the failures in care was sent to the woman’s family. If they did not comply, it would have been assumed they were responsible.

Bosses reportedly spent £1,512 on a fingerprint expert and £968 on a handwriting expert to identify who had sent the letter.

Susan Warby, 57, died of multi-organ failure five weeks after bowel surgery in 2018 after a number of errors were made at the hospital.

Sharon Allison, a partner at Ashtons Legal, described the trust’s reaction as “disgraceful” and says that: “At the end of the day, it will be patients and their families who will suffer if staff feel as though they cannot confidentially express concerns.” She adds that “whistleblowers play a crucial role in ensuring that the duty of candour is upheld.”

During Mrs Warby’s operation, she was wrongly given glucose instead of saline through an arterial line with an intravenous infusion. When having the arterial line replaced, she suffered a punctured lung. It then emerged that the procedure was carried out by a junior staff member.

The hospital has claimed that investigations were already underway before the letter was sent out and that the demand for fingerprints was to resolve what West Suffolk described as “a very serious data breach.”

Matt Hancock, the health secretary and MP for West Suffolk, has in the past championed whistleblowers, saying they provide a “vital and courageous service for the NHS.” However he reportedly failed to respond to people voicing concerns over how the trust was treating its staff.


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