We look at the issues of whistleblowing in the Lucy Letby case. She was found guilty of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder six more at a Chester hospital and given a life sentence. She will spend the rest of her life in prison.
The case has raised serious concerns about whistleblowing within the NHS and questions about how she was able to get away with this for so long.
Whistleblowing in the Lucy Letby case
Many doctors and nurses raised concerns about Lucy Letby and her relation to the deaths of the babies whilst she was working, but they were not taken seriously. It was described that the hospital saw this as a ‘doctor picking on nurses’ situation and refused to give it the attention it needed; they were too concerned about the reputation of the hospital, preventing them from carrying out a sufficient investigation. The doctors who did the whistleblowing in the Lucy Letby case were even asked to apologise to her when she raised a grievance against them.
The same directors that defended Letby, campaigned for her to return to work and dismissed the concerns were appointed the NHS trusts Freedom to Speak Up guardians – roles which were curated to support whistleblowers in the public sector. Dr Ravi Jayaram, who was one of the doctors who raised concerns about Letby, told The Independent how hypocritical he felt this was given that they “did their best to bully me into silence“.
Freedom to Speak Up guardians were introduced to all NHS trusts in 2016. This came after approximately 1,200 patients died due to poor care as a result of whistleblowers’ concerns being dismissed at Mid Staffordshire Hospital.
This is an ongoing pattern within the NHS and hospital framework that has not gone unnoticed; hospitals are so defensive of their reputation that they can brush matters such as this under the carpet and not properly investigate them. Protect reports that so far this year, 40% of NHS whistleblowers who have reached out to their legal helpline have said the trusts ignored their concerns.
This is why there was a movement for a statutory inquiry (that was successful) and some have even suggested that whistleblowing within the NHS should be investigated.
Whistleblowing and the law
Whistleblowing should be taken seriously by seniors and should not impact an employee’s job or career – there are protections in place. See an example of a Hatton James whistleblowing client who went through the tribunal process.
For more information on whistleblowing protection you can read this article on our site. Effectively, employees have protections against any detriment or dismissal for the reason that they have blown the whistle, though proving the cause of the detriment or dismissal can be an uphill struggle.
Other than the Freedom to Speak Up programme, there are no special rules in any industry for whistleblowers. They should however be mindful not to commit crimes or misconduct when documenting wrongdoing. In 2009 Margaret Haywood, who recorded the treatment of patients in a geriatric ward who helped the BBC film a Panorama investigation, was struck off as a nurse the for filming conditions (though she was later reinstated with a caution on her record).
Statutory inquiries hold more legal weight and can compel people to give evidence, provide witness statements and release documents relevant to the inquiry, meaning it is more likely to help make a change to the system.
There have already been three major inquiries into the death or harm of babies at Morecambe Bay, Shrewsbury and Telford, and East Kent NHS hospital trusts, since 2015. With a fourth inquiry into the Nottingham Hospital Trust, it seems that these inquiries have not produced enough results for something to change.
Currently, the government have not announced any plans for a statutory inquiry, despite many professionals, such as Dr. Stephen Brearey who has been vocal about the ongoing issues within the NHS, pleading for one.
Image from BBC website