Whistleblowers ignored at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital leading to the death of 5 patients

5 June 2014

An article published in the Telegraph magazine on Monday 2nd June highlights that NHS trusts continue to ignore concerns raised by staff about colleagues.

The anonymous doctor interviewed by the Telegraph reports that junior doctors and nurses had expressed concerns about three surgeons, who were performing key hole surgery for upper gastrointestinal cancer at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital. The anonymous doctor interviewed by the Telegraph describes how he and colleagues were "brushed off" and that no action was taken.

The Trust did not investigate the surgeon’s practices until five patients died unexpectedly between December 2012 - January 2013 following upper gastrointestinal surgery. In May 2013 it asked the Royal College of Surgeons to investigate.  Surprisingly, the Trust did not suspend services until the end of July 2013.

The Trust received the Royal College of Surgeons report in December 2013 and made the suspension of surgery permanent. However, the Trust did not share the report with the families of the deceased patients until April 2014 and made the report public only a month later.

The delays make it easy to envisage a culture within the Trust that allowed practitioners concerns to be "brushed under the carpet."

As Claimant lawyers we have a huge amount of sympathy for the patients and families involved. Many of our clients tell us that they just want to know what went wrong and that it will never happen again. Delayed publication of a report of this kind does not inspire confidence in the culture of the Trust.  It makes it difficult to move past the "blame game" described by the doctor brave enough to talk to the Telegraph.

It is worth pausing here to reflect on the position of medical practitioners who are concerned about a colleague’s actions. The vast majority of healthcare workers are utterly committed to their patients and to treating and caring for them in the best possible way. Part of this vocation inevitably triggers a crisis of conscience when they identify poor or substandard care. Concerns raised by practitioners in such circumstances should be dealt with fairly and openly, moving away from a culture of individual blame to organisational responsibility that encourages all practitioners to have a voice when it comes to raising concerns.

At Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital clear failings, resulting in the death of 5 people, have been identified and yet the doctor interviewed by the Telegraph still wants to remain anonymous.  He is worried about his job prospects if he is identified as a whistleblower. This emphasises just how much cultural change is needed within the NHS to protect patients from a situation like this ever arising again.

Kingsley Napley have recently launched their own Healthcare Standards campaign which aims to promote accountability, rather than blame, in the NHS. Information about this, including further comment about the duty of candour and, for medical staff in particular, whistleblowing, can be found on the Healthcare Standards section on our website.

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