Letby inquiry must also examine NHS ‘cover-up culture’, says ombudsman


The public inquiry into Lucy Letby’s crimes must be widened to examine the NHS’s “cover-up culture” over failures in patient safety, the health service ombudsman has said.

The inquiry should also look into why so many hospital bosses ignore concerns about lapses in safety and victimise whistleblowers who raise them, Rob Behrens told the Guardian.

He wants the inquiry to investigate how the NHS generally deals with failings in care, as well as exploring how Letby was able to murder seven babies and try to kill six others at the Countess of Chester hospital, despite senior doctors raising the alarm about her.

While the inquiry’s first duty is to give the families of Lucy Letby’s victims the answers they want, it should also explore how other hospitals have demonstrated the same “cover-up culture and dismissive attitude” that consultant paediatricians experienced at the Chester hospital, Behrens said.

“We need the inquiry to thoroughly examine NHS leadership, accountability and culture to contextualise what happened.

“Among the many questions the inquiry will need to answer, and without prejudice, is why did the leaders of this trust act in the way they did? And, related to that, why do leaders in the wider NHS too often act in a way that prioritises protecting the reputation of their organisation over patient safety?”

It should also look into why a raft of initiatives in recent years, which were intended to make it easier for staff to raise concerns and to force trusts to be more open about mistakes, have in his view failed to achieve their aims, the ombudsman added. “The whistleblowing law, the duty of candour and the accountability of [NHS trust] boards and executives are not working effectively.”