We need a shake-up of toxic, defensive NHS culture - Jackie Baillie

The sheer horror of Lucy Letby, convicted of killing newborn babies in a hospital where she worked as a nurse, is as shocking a court case as many of us are likely to encounter.
Jackie Baillie MSP Scottish LabourJackie Baillie MSP Scottish Labour
Jackie Baillie MSP Scottish Labour

After a 10-month trial and around 110 hours of jury deliberations, the 33-year-old was convicted of the murder of seven babies and the attempted murder of six more. She will never be released from prison.

The details of the serial killer on the loose in the neo-natal unit at the Countess of Chester medical hospital were hard to absorb and difficult to comprehend. Psychopathic behaviour like this, truly evil, is impossible to fathom. But there are aspects of the court case and the revelations which have since flowed which are depressingly familiar to Scots.

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The red light warnings issued by doctors over the unexplained deaths on the ward were dismissed and grieving parents were fobbed off by the health chiefs.

Child killer Lucy Letby is set to die behind barsChild killer Lucy Letby is set to die behind bars
Child killer Lucy Letby is set to die behind bars

In the Lucy Letby case, as in so many others, the whistleblowers who raised concerns were stifled and dismissed by a management culture more concerned about the reputation of the hospital than the lives of the vulnerable children being treated there.

One medic even told his manager directly that they were “harbouring a murderer” only to be forced to write an apology and face the child killer in mediation sessions.

The parallels between the Lucy Letby case and the whistleblowers at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital are unavoidable. The same culture of secrecy and cover-up at the health boards to protect their own reputations continues here while families grieve in private.

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Louise Slorance, the widowed mother of three, does not miss the pattern of denial and cover-up which become familiar as she has fought for answers over her husband Andrew’s avoidable death at Glasgow’s QUEH.

Staggering as it seems, the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board spent £15,000 a year of public money spying on Louise Slorance’s social media account as well as those of Anas Sarwar and myself for questioning their version of events.

It was only the bravery of whistleblowers and Labour leader Anas Sarwar’s tireless campaign to help Kimberley Darroch which uncovered how her ten year old daughter Milly Main died after acquiring an infection at the QEUH.

It took massive effort to establish an inquiry looking at the problems with the £842m Glasgow hospital and Edinburgh’s new Sick Kids Hospital against a wall of denial and duplicity from health chiefs.

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But while that inquiry enters its third year the fact that three lawyers have walked away from the investigation is a significant blow which will undoubtedly lead to delays and for which there has been no explanation.

Similarly the Patient Safety Commissioner Bill, which emerged after the Milly Main case does not give sufficient rights to bereaved families.

By failing to support Scottish Labour’s amendments to the bill at stage one, the SNP and the Greens proved that they are on the side of the powers that be, not the patients and their families.

Efforts are now being made by the government to work with Scottish Labour to make Milly’s Law a reality.

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The running of the QEUH is one of the biggest scandals in Scottish political history – with families still going without answers after years of being fobbed off by officials.

I back calls for a statutory inquiry into what happened at the Countess of Chester hospital. This is vital in uncovering the tragic series of events that led to the untimely deaths of children. But it will take more than an inquiry to tackle the arrogance and denial that leads to such fatal outcomes as we have seen at Scottish hospitals. That needs a complete shake-up of the toxic defensive culture of NHS chiefs, more protection for whistleblowers and more rights for patients.

Jackie Baillie MSP is Scottish Labour deputy leader