A whistleblowing nurse at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary is calling for a full public inquiry “to uncover the whole truth” about what was happening in Morecambe Bay’s hospitals.
Russell Dunkeld, who lives in Morecambe, resigned from University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust (UHMBT) in 2009, when his concerns that a colleague was hastening the deaths of patients were not investigated.
He said managers at the trust ignored allegations that a colleague had boasted of interfering with drug and saline drips.
He said managers later gagged him from speaking out as part of a compensation deal.
Speaking after giving evidence to the recent Morecambe Bay Investigation, which was set up to investigate the deaths of mothers and babys at Furness General Hospital’s maternity unit, Mr Dunkeld said he had misgivings about the way the investigation was carried out.
But he added that Dr Kirkup gave him a warm welcome and made him feel at ease and comfortable throughout the interview.
He said: “A great deal of useful evidence was unearthed, the relatives of victims have taken comfort and a feeling of vindication, but I do have some misgivings.
“I am puzzled as to why the Morecambe Bay Investigation did not publicly ask for whistleblowers to come forward for interview. I had not thought to offer evidence because the Terms of Reference exclusively concerned maternity services. As it was, I wrote a letter outlining my concerns to Care Quality Commission.
“They returned a standard brush-off reply saying they could not get involved in individual cases - alarming in itself as all cases are individual.
“I just happened at that point to have made contact with an NHS campaigner, who passed my details to another campaigner, who found time and energy to take CQC to task over their dismissal of my case. Next day I was invited to give evidence to Morecambe Bay Investigation.”
Mr Dunkeld believes that there was no intention in the first instance to gain evidence from whistleblowers, and that he was invited in order to draw attention away from CQC’s “indefensible initial lack of interest”.
He said that a valuable chance to gain as much information as possible was missed.
A CQC spokesperson said: “It takes courage to come forward with concerns and it is vital that people feel free to speak out to help prevent poor care.
“We take all allegations seriously and we always encourage whistleblowers to come forward with information. Any information that has been passed to us will be taken into consideration when we next inspect the trust.”
But Mr Dunkeld said that the failure to specifically call for evidence from whistleblowers was a serious omission.
He added: “They have no vested interest, no loyalties to uphold, no bosses to please, no reputations to protect, no future income to worry about nor colleagues from whom to fear reprisal. In my opinion only a full Public Inquiry can hope to uncover the whole truth of what was happening at Morecambe Bay.
“I hope the Trust now recognises that its practices are unacceptable and result in dreadful consequences. The Trust must improve in real terms of patient-focused service.”
The trust acknowledged Mr Dunkeld’s concerns as “serious issues”, and conceded that across the NHS responses to staff complaints were “sometimes not good enough”.
David Wilkinson, director of workforce and organisational development at UHMBT, said: “The Trust welcomes the publication of the Morecambe Bay Investigation report, accepts and acknowledges the criticisms and accepts its recommendations without reservation.
“It is a definitive picture of what happened between 2004 and 2013.
“I’ve met with Mr Dunkeld and want to maintain a dialogue with him on any of the issues he has raised that he considers can still be resolved.
“Unfortunately, the lack of detailed evidence available to us at this time means we are unable, so many years later, to substantiate the serious issues he raised.
“The trust did carry out investigations into many of the concerns he raised, both in 2008 and again in 2009, but it has been recognised throughout all parts of the NHS that the way in which staff concerns have been addressed and investigated in previous years was sometimes not good enough, and that clauses in standard public service compromise agreements have sometimes been misrepresented.
“Following the publication of the Morecambe Bay Investigation we are renewing our focus to support staff and the public who raise concerns across the organisation.
“To that end, this week the Trust Board considered a number of recommendations to support those who raise concerns.
“These include the appointment of a ‘Freedom To Speak Up Guardian’- a genuinely independent person to deal with concerns; a new role for one of our non-executive directors to receive concerns directly from employees; and concerns to become a standing item at a number of Trust meetings, to ensure that those who raise concerns can do so without fear or prejudice, with detailed findings and actions fed back to them.”