Video report by Granada Reports journalist Andrew Fletcher
A former clinician and safety campaigner said there are tragic consequences of hospital managers “protecting reputations” above listening to the concerns of staff after serial killer Lucy Letby was found guilty of murdering babies in her care.
The 33-year-old neonatal nurse was convicted of the murder of seven babies and the attempted murder of six more at the Countess of Chester Hospital between June 2015 and June 2016.
The families of her victims say they have been left "heartbroken, devastated, angry and feel numb" by her actions as questions grow about whether she could have been stopped sooner.
The Countess of Chester Hospital is under mounting pressure over why the nurse was not removed from the neonatal unit sooner.
Dr Bill Kirkup said there were “common features” between the Lucy Letby case and reviews he has conducted into poor care in maternity units, including Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.
It comes as police said they are reviewing the care of 4,000 babies who were admitted to the Countess of Chester – and also Liverpool Women’s Hospital when Letby had two work placements – going as far back as 2012.
And the Government has ordered an independent inquiry into the circumstances behind the murders and attempted murders.
Kirkup, who led the reviews into poor care in maternity units in Morecambe Bay and East Kent, “I think there are a number of common features that underpin a lot of these different investigations, particularly the difficulty in persuading people that there’s a real problem here that must be investigated."
"The phrase ‘protecting reputation’ on the part of the Trust rings a massive bell for me because that’s been a feature of everything that I’ve been involved with for the last 12 years or so."
“And when that comes ahead of being open and honest about what’s going on, that’s tragic. We have to be able to stop this.”
Samantha Dixon, the MP for Chester said the families that suffered "unimaginable harm" at the hands of this nurse all want answers.
She said the circumstances that Letby was able to commit these heinous crimes need to be examined fully and openly.
The Labour MP said following the verdicts she wrote to the Secretary of State for Health Steve Barclay requesting a "full public and independent inquiry".
But she is concerned that this would be a non statutory inquiry, which can't compel witnesses to give evidence.
Dr Bill Kirkup said in his experience that has not been an issue with the inquiries he has headed. He also said "a statutory inquiry would involve full legal representation and delay the ultimate aim of getting to the truth."
Following the East Kent Inquiry he recommended changes to the reporting of incidents, which would show a pattern of failings.
Letby will be sentenced on Monday but the trial judge, Mr Justice Goss KC, had asked Letby, through her legal team, whether she would attend the hearing via video link but that the defendant had again refused.
He added: “The sentencing hearing will take place whether she is present or not. The court has no power to force her to attend … therefore there is nothing I can do about it.”
Chester's MP said that was wrong and the law needs to be changed to ensure those convicted are in the dock when they are sentenced.
The then justice secretary, Dominic Raab, said in April that he planned to change legislation to force criminals to appear for sentencing hearings.
“Spineless criminals like Cashman who hide from their sentencing prolong the suffering of victims and their families,” he said on Twitter.
“As I have already made clear, I plan to change the law to compel offenders to face up to their actions, so victims can see the justice they deserve being served.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said on Friday: “The lord chancellor has been clear he wants victims to see justice delivered and for all those found guilty to hear society’s condemnation at their sentencing hearing.
“Defendants can already be ordered by a judge to attend court with those who fail facing up to two years in prison.”
Dr Nigel Scawn, medical director at the Countess of Chester, said the Trust is committed to ensuring that ‘lessons continue to be learned’.
He said: “We would like to extend our thanks to Cheshire Police for their extensive investigation and the work they did to bring this case to trial."
“We would also like to thank them for the comprehensive support that they have provided to all the families involved.
“Since Lucy Letby worked at our hospital, we have made significant changes to our services and I want to provide reassurance to every patient that may access our services that they can have confidence in the care that they will receive.
“Finally, and most importantly, our thoughts are with all the families and loved ones at this very difficult time.”