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Results of independent investigation into West Suffolk Hospital whistleblowing controversy to be revealed this summer




The findings of an independent investigation into West Suffolk Hospital following concerns about an alleged 'witch hunt' for a whistle-blower are due to be published this summer.

The Government told NHS England and NHS Improvement in January last year to commission a 'rapid and ​independent review' into how West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust handled the issue.

The trust was at the centre of controversy after bosses at the Bury St Edmunds hospital asked for handwriting and fingerprint samples to identify who wrote a letter in October 2018 to the husband of a patient who died detailing errors in his wife's treatment.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds

The Doctor's Association UK described the situation as a 'witch-hunt' and cited 'alleged bullying and intimidation of senior doctors'.

An inquest into the death of Susan Warby, who died on August 30, 2018 five weeks after undergoing two emergency surgeries for a perforated bowel, heard her husband Jon later received an anonymous letter claiming there were errors in his wife's treatment.

West Suffolk Hospital later apologised after the inquest found mistakes were a contributing factor to her death.

Christine Outram was tasked with undertaking a 'rapid assessment of the handling and circumstances' surrounding concerns raised in the letter.

Among the issues she was to investigate were 'the appropriateness and impact of the trust seeking to identify the author of the October letter and the steps it took in doing so, including requesting relevant staff to produce fingerprinting and handwriting samples'.

She was also due to consider how the trust 'handled allegations of bullying and undermining behaviour by members of staff, including the efficacy of its actions and whether best practice learnings have been sufficiently embedded as a result'.

The review was delayed due to the pandemic and Healthwatch Suffolk asked NHS England and Improvement for an update on the expected timeline.

Wendy Herber, independent chair for Healthwatch, said: "Where issues arise in the provision of health and care, our work tells us that it is vital they are addressed as quickly and openly as possible.

"We approached NHS England and NHS Improvement – East of England to ask them about the delay to the release of this independent review, so that everyone could be clear about what was happening and trust that the process was not undermined."

A spokesman for NHS England and NHS Improvement – East of England said the review was ongoing and was delayed due to the pandemic.

He added: "The findings are expected to be published late summer once the review has been completed.

"NHS England and NHS Improvement is supportive of the independent review team taking the time they need to ensure a comprehensive and thorough review.

"This is a complex review with a broad scope."

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