• NHSE/I ordered to launch a “rapid and independent” review into West Suffolk FT
  • Move follows allegations the trust led a “witch-hunt” for a whistleblower who raised concerns after a patient death
  • Trust asked staff for handwriting and fingerprint samples

NHS national bosses have been ordered by ministers to launch a “rapid and independent” review into a trust amid concerns over how it handled an alleged “witch-hunt” for a whistleblower.

West Suffolk Foundation Trust has faced sustained criticism after its leaders asked staff for handwriting and fingerprint samples in attempts to establish who wrote a letter to a patient’s husband, claiming there were errors in his wife’s care.

The patient was Susan Warby. She died aged 57 just five weeks after she underwent two emergency surgeries for a perforated bowel in August 2018.

Health minister Edward Argar told the Commons this week he had “requested… NHSE/I [to] commission a rapid and independent review into how the West Suffolk FT handled the issue. I will be happy to update members…what the review reports.”

Coroner Nigel Parsley told Ms Warby’s inquest the letter her partner Jon Warby was sent alleged “something had gone wrong” during her surgery at West Suffolk Hospital, according to The Guardian.

Mr Warby called on both the hospital and Suffolk Police to conduct investigations into the matter. The trust then spent £968 on a handwriting expert, and £1,512 on a fingerprint expert, in attempts to find out who wrote the letter to Mr Warby.

The trust said it first launched an investigation when a “serious information breach took place involving confidential patient information being accessed and shared inappropriately”.

WSFT then apologised to the Warby family after this “caused distress” before opening a second serious incident investigation surrounding the data breach.

Staff involved were asked to provide handwriting and fingerprint examples so they could effectively be ruled out. The trust insisted they were not threatened with disciplinary action if they declined to do so.

However, this prompted further concern, as not all staff agreed with that view, leading to a further apology before further fingerprint requests were dropped.

Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctors’ Association UK, which campaigns for better working conditions for doctors, told The Guardian that the “utterly extraordinary and unprecedented” behaviours from the trust “fly in the face” of what had been learned following the Mid Staffs scandal.

He added: “Threats, secrecy and a toxic culture towards dedicated NHS staff, where whistleblowers are persecuted, serve only to move us further away from a just culture and threaten patient safety.”

The DHSC did not respond to HSJ’s requests for comment at the time of publication. Both NHSE/I and West Suffolk FT said they were unable to provide one at this stage.