West Suffolk Hospital: Directors due to step down after 'witch-hunt'

By Nikki Fox & Matt Precey
BBC East

image copyrightWest Suffolk Hospital
image captionThe Doctors' Association spoke of a "toxic culture" at the hospital in Bury St Edmunds

Two directors are due to step down at a hospital that asked staff for fingerprints and handwriting samples as it hunted a whistleblower.

An inquiry into West Suffolk Hospital's handling of the affair is due to report imminently.

Nick Jenkins will leave his role as medical director, while chief operating officer Helen Beck is to retire.

The NHS trust that runs the hospital in Bury St Edmunds thanked both of them for their "dedication and leadership".

In a letter to staff, seen by the BBC, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's chief executive Dr Stephen Dunn made the announcement, but made no reference to the independent inquiry.

Trust management were accused of carrying out a "witch-hunt" after staff were asked for fingerprints and handwriting samples in an attempt to find the author of a letter that was sent to the husband of a deceased patient.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionJon Warby was sent an anonymous letter highlighting concerns about his late wife's treatment

An inquest was told about a series of errors in the treatment of Susan Warby, who died five weeks after bowel surgery in August 2018.

The 57-year-old was given glucose instead of saline fluid through an arterial line in one operation, suffered a punctured lung during another and a week later contracted a fungal infection.

Two months later, her husband Jon received the anonymous letter that highlighted concerns about her treatment and suggested questions about the role of a particular doctor should be raised.

The hospital trust spent more than £2,000 in 2019 commissioning fingerprint and handwriting experts in an effort to identify the author.

The Doctors' Association described the trust's actions as a "witch hunt" and said they highlighted a "toxic culture".

The hospital, which serves constituents of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, later apologised to the staff involved.

Christine Outram MBE was commissioned by NHS Improvement to carry out an independent review into the events arising from the letter and the hospital's handling of the affair.

It was due to be completed in April 2020, but it has yet to be published.

Mr Jenkins is due to step down in his role as medical director at the end of May, but will stay on as a part-time emergency medicine consultant.

Staff have been told this is due to his desire to spend more time supporting his family and "providing caring responsibilities as they deal with a period of illness".

Helen Beck will retire at the end of November.

'Feared reprisals'

A Care Quality Commission report in January 2020 said West Suffolk Hospital staff "did not feel listened to and saw others that had raised concerns be penalised".

"Not all staff felt supported, respected or valued and some feared reprisals if they raised concerns," it added.

It downgraded the trust's rating from "outstanding" to "requiring improvement".

In a statement, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Dr Steve Dunn said: "On behalf of the board I would like to thank both Nick and Helen for their dedication and leadership over many years.

"We are pleased that Nick will remain as a valuable member of the Trust's consultant body and we wish Helen all the very best for her retirement at the end of the year."

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