Hospital bosses in the Health Secretary’s own constituency have been accused of launching a witch-hunt to find a whistleblower.
Doctors were asked to provide fingerprints and handwriting samples to identify which one wrote to a widower about blunders in his wife’s treatment, it is claimed.
Staff were told they would be assumed to be behind the letter if they failed to comply, medical sources told a newspaper.
Employees at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, in Matt Hancock’s constituency, said he had rebuffed their request for help, despite his praise of whistleblowers. The row emerged yesterday as an inquest began into the death of Susan Warby, who died five weeks after bowel surgery.
The 57-year-old died at the hospital on August 30, 2018, after complications in her treatment.
Her family later received an anonymous letter highlighting errors in her surgery, the inquest in Ipswich heard.
Investigations by Suffolk Police and the hospital confirmed that there had been issues around an arterial line fitted to Mrs Warby, Suffolk’s senior coroner Nigel Parsley said.
Doctors were reportedly asked for fingerprints, with an official from union Unison describing the probe as a ‘witch hunt’.
Staff were allegedly warned by the hospital in a meeting that ‘any refusal to provide consent… would be considered evidence which implicated you’. The hospital is claimed to have spent £968 on a handwriting expert and £1,512 on a fingerprint expert, The Times reported.
The inquest was told that Mrs Warby, who had a digestive condition, had been suffering abdominal pain and diarrhoea for about a fortnight before she collapsed at home on July 26, 2018. The mother, known as Sue, was taken to hospital and had emergency open surgery for a perforated bowel the next day.
Mr Parsley said that Mrs Warby was too unwell for her surgical incisions to be stitched up after the surgery and this was eventually done on July 29.
Her husband Jon Warby said he was told that during her operation an arterial line was fitted with an intravenous infusion to keep it clear. She was incorrectly given glucose instead of saline, Mr Warby said.
He said that his wife’s condition was ‘very up and down’ in the following days and her arterial line was replaced with a line into a central vein on August 7. During this op, Mrs Warby suffered a punctured lung. Mr Warby said he was told the ‘tricky procedure’ was carried out by a ‘junior’ staff member.
He said that a week later, Mrs Warby contracted a fungal infection and died. Her cause of death was recorded as multi-organ failure, with contributory causes including septicaemia and pneumonia.
Peter Walsh, of charity Action Against Medical Accidents, told The Times: ‘The way that they started asking for fingerprints from staff was abominable.’
Sources close to Mr Hancock said he had raised the issue with the Trust and Care Quality Commission. The inquest continues.