Published: 31/01/2002, Volume II2, No. 5790 Page 4 5

Morale has been boosted at the London hospital at the centre of a media and political frenzy over treatment of an elderly patient in its accident and emergency department, with staff uniting to defend the trust's reputation, according to its chief executive.

Whittington Hospital trust chief executive Trevor Campbell Davis told HSJ after a week of headlines: 'The funny thing is that since the coverage started, morale has not been higher. Staff have said that we are not going to take this any more, we are going to tell it like it is.'

He extended thanks to NHS staff around the UK who have been sending messages of support to the Whittington.

Despite igniting a massive political row that questioned the very future of the NHS, the families at the centre of newspaper allegations of poor care at the hospital did not make any formal complaints about their treatment, according to Mr Campbell Davis.

The story of 94-year-old Rose Addis hit the headlines when her family, who claimed she was abandoned in A&E, approached the London Evening Standard. Mr Campbell Davis met the family this week to address concerns that she was left unwashed in blood-stained clothes for three days.

'The family has not made a formal complaint. This has been dealt with in a totally informal way, ' he told HSJ.

A second case involving an 88-year-old patient allegedly left unwashed for five days is also being dealt with as an informal complaint. And the family of the 13-year-old boy who told the Standard they had to wait eight hours to see a doctor has not contacted the trust. 'The consultant who saw them says he remembers quite clearly that the boy did not have any symptoms of meningococcal disease, but that he was kept in for observation, ' Mr Campbell Davis said.

Despite the fact that the Addis allegations were refuted by the trust and by health secretary Alan Milburn, they were seized on in the House of Commons by Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith, where the story turned into a political row about the viability of the NHS.

'At no point have we had any contact with Mr Duncan Smith, before or since, [for him] to check any of the allegations, ' Mr Campbell Davis said.

During television interviews medical director Professor James Malone-Lee revealed that Mrs Addis was confused and refused to allow staff to bathe her.

But Mr Campbell Davis stressed that 'racism was not an issue' for the trust. 'Then the media picked up on Professor Malone-Lee being a member of the Labour Party. This never occurred to me to be relevant.We have senior staff on both sides of the political divide here.'

Mr Campbell Davis said he was upset with some newspaper versions of the Commission for Health Improvement's report on the trust, published earlier this month. This week CHI took the unprecedented step of issuing a press release restating the main points of its generally favourable view that the trust has 'strong and effective leadership, excellent patient information and good risk-management'.

As media interest mushroomed, Mr Campbell Davis said the hospital had to put up with 'some of the worst journalism that I have seen in a long time'.

Mr Milburn visited the trust last week with NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp when it was made clear that the trust 'should be allowed to defend itself in public where appropriate'.

'I think we behaved properly and honourably. We found ourselves with our heads above the parapet because the Evening Standard was determined to make a political point about the NHS. We had to make sure that our local population was not frightened by this misleading coverage.'