West Lane: Whistleblower 'ignored' after flagging concerns about mental health hospital

Ray Godwin, who's also a councillor on Thornaby Council, resigned after his concerns were 'ignored' by trust leaders Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

A former care worker at the health trust which ran a now-closed hospital where two teenage girls died said he repeatedly flagged his concerns about patient care, but was ignored.

Ray Godwin spent nearly 30 years working in the forensic services unit of West Lane Hospital, run by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

He told ITV Tyne Tees for the vast majority of his career, he was proud of the standard of care he helped deliver to patients with severe mental health problems.

However when the trust was amalgamated with neighbouring trusts to become one of the biggest in the country, he said it lost its connection to patients.

He said: "Every day when I go into work the question I would ask myself is would I have my friends and family nursed in this establishment?

"For a good part of my working life I would have said yes, we are very good at what we do. In recent years I wouldn't trust this organisation to look after my loved ones and feel they were safe and had their best interests."

The deaths of Nadia Sharif, Christie Harnett and Emily Moore, who had all been patients at the now closed West Lane hospital in Middlesbrough, prompted a report, published on Tuesday 21 March, which is damning of the trust's senior leadership.

Nadia and Christie died in the summer of 2019. Emily, who was also treated at West Lane, died at Lanchester Road Hospital, also run by TEWV, in March 2020.

Mr Godwin, who is also a town councillor for Thornaby Council, said serious understaffing across trust services meant patient care was dangerously compromised.

He described a "chaotic" culture in which bank and agency health staff with little experience were often parachuted in for shifts, despite having no knowledge of the patients they were caring for.

West Lane Hospital, which closed in 2019, is the subject of a review into its governance. Credit: ITV

He said: "Staffing has always been a massive concern. It has very few staff and experience-wise it's limited with bank and agency staff and new members of staff.

"It has struggled and especially recently to recruit and retrain new staff."

He added that the deaths of the three young women should have been a major learning opportunity for the trust but no improvements were made.

Mr Godwin wrote to the trust's own speaking up guardian, its previous chief executive, its current executive and its board of directors to highlight his fears, but said it led to no positive change.

He said it left him with no choice to become a whistleblower, taking his concerns directly to the health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission.

Inspectors closed West Lane Hospital, with responsibility transferred to Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Trust (CNTW) in August 2019.

Mr Godwin eventually resigned from his post in Autumn 2021 and is now a driver for Amazon, while also continuing as a town councillor.

In response to Mr Godwin's comments, David Jennings, chair of Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We would like to reiterate how deeply sorry we are for the events that contributed to the deaths of Christie, Nadia and Emily. 

“Brent Kilmurray, our chief executive, and I have met each of the young women’s families to apologise to them in person. I thank them for allowing us to do that. I cannot begin to imagine how painful it has been for them. 

“This report covers a period of time where it was abundantly clear there were shortfalls in both care and leadership. Over the last three years, how we care for people, how we involve patients, families and carers, and our leadership and governance structure have changed significantly.

“We will continue to work hard to make sure we deliver safe and kind care to the people we support, as they have every right to expect.”

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