A FINGER-PRINTING ‘WITCH HUNT’ AT WEST SUFFOLK TO IDENTIFY A WHISTLEBLOWER HAS LEFT DOCTORS TERRIFIED AND A GRIEVING FAMILY WITHOUT ANSWERS
In December 2019 The Doctors’ Association UK was able to bring to light the extraordinary and unprecedented actions taken by West Suffolk to identify a whistleblower in what has been described as a “witch hunt”.
Following the tragic death of Susan Warby, 57, an anonymous whistleblower wrote to Mrs Warby’s widower, to raise concerns about the treatment Mrs Warby had received at West Suffolk for a perforated bowel. We understand the letter was given to the police in the first instance followed by the coroner.
Subsequently, doctors approached The Doctors’ Association UK alleging that the Trust had demanded both fingerprints as well as samples of handwriting in a shocking attempt to identify the whistleblower. The clinicians further alleged that it was made clear that a refusal to submit either finger prints or samples of handwriting would be evidence of guilt.2 DAUK were able to expose this extraordinary behaviour in The Guardian, which first reported on the situation on the 11th December 2019.
It is our view that the Trust’s actions were utterly reprehensible. We remain bewildered as it why this was deemed to be an acceptable approach to staff attempting to raise patient safety concerns. 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 would have been confirmed by the Trust’s subsequent punitive and needlessly high-handed response.
As the Coroner’s Inquest draws to a close we hope that this has provided some much needed answers for Mrs Warby’s grieving family. We call on West Suffolk to reflect on their actions and issue an much overdue apology to staff who have told us they remain too speak up about patient safety incidents and near misses.
1. The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) is a trade association for UK doctors. Run by frontline NHS doctors, DAUK campaigns for patients and the NHS as well as advocating for the medical profession. Following the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba DAUK launched the Learn Not Blame campaign for a just culture in the NHS in the House of Commons in November 2018
2. Subsequently it has been reported in The Guardian that West Suffolk spent £968 on a handwriting expert and £1,512 on a fingerprint expert in their atrocious attempts to try identify the whistleblower. The Trust’s investigation was allegedly lead by a non-executive director who sits on the Trust’s board who is a former assistant chief constable.