DAUK in The Guardian: hospital’s fingerprint hunt for whistleblower

A widower who was sent a whistleblowing letter alleging surgical errors before his wife’s death has expressed surprise that the hospital involved demanded that staff provide fingerprints to identify the anonymous sender.

Jon Warby, a former police officer, said the letter “knocked me sideways” when it arrived two months after his wife, Susan, had died aged 57 after an operation for a perforated bowel at West Suffolk hospital (WSH) in 2018.

Speaking after the adjournment of an inquest in Ipswich into Susan’s death, Warby confirmed that the letter outlined errors in his wife’s surgery that had already been disclosed to him by the hospital. But he also revealed that it contained allegations about the treatment of at least one other patient. He declined to give details.

Last month the Guardian revealed that the anonymous letter had prompted an unprecedented “witch-hunt” by the hospital bosses to try to identify the staff member who had sent the letter. This week the Guardian further revealed that the trust had spent more than £2,500 on handwriting and fingerprint experts after demanding samples from staff.

Senior doctors at West Suffolk hospital said the trust’s demand for fingerprints and handwriting typified a bullying management style. They were also angered when Hancock failed to respond to concerns about the trust’s treatment of staff.

Dr Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctors’ Association UK, said: “The witch-hunt for a whistleblower following the tragic death of Mrs Warby highlights a deep-seated toxic culture at West Suffolk hospital. A culture where alleged bullying and intimidation of senior doctors is the chosen strategy by senior managers to silence whistleblowers concerned about patient safety.”

He added: “Rather than address the widespread patient safety issues leading to Mrs Warby’s death, the senior management at the trust sought instead to divert their attention to targeting the whistleblower. Meanwhile the health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, who purports to champion patient safety, and in whose local hospital this is happening, has simply buried his head in the sand when approached about the matter.

“The very fact that a clinician felt it was necessary to contact the family directly in an anonymous manner is all too telling of a draconian blame culture where staff feel too afraid to speak up when things go wrong. There is no doubt that staff’s worst fears have been confirmed by the trust’s subsequent punitive and needlessly high-handed response.”

Read the full article in The Guardian by Matthew Weaver: