Inquest hears hospital management launched ‘witch hunt’ to find surgery whistleblower

Hospital bosses in the Health Secretary’s own constituency have been accused of launching a witch hunt to find a whistleblower who told a widower about blunders in the treatment his wife received.

The row emerged as an inquest began into the death of Susan Warby who died five weeks after bowel surgery.

The 57-year-old died at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, in Matt Hancock’s constituency, on August 30 2018 after a series of complications in her treatment.

Her family received an anonymous letter after her death highlighting errors in her surgery, the inquest in Ipswich heard, and both Suffolk Police and the hospital launched investigations.

These investigations confirmed that there had been issues around an arterial line fitted to Mrs Warby during surgery, Suffolk’s senior coroner Nigel Parsley said.

Doctors were reportedly asked for fingerprints as part of the hospital’s investigation, with an official from trade union Unison describing the investigation as a “witch hunt” designed to identify the whistleblower who revealed the blunders.

Thursday’s inquest was told that Mrs Warby had complained of abdominal pain and diarrhoea for around a fortnight before she collapsed at home on July 26 2018 and her husband Jon Warby (pictured) called the NHS 111 number.

The mother, known as Sue, was taken to hospital by ambulance and underwent emergency open surgery for a perforated bowel the next day, on July 27.

Mr Parsley said that Mrs Warby was too unwell for her surgical incisions to be stitched up after the surgery and this was eventually done on July 29.

Mr Warby said, in a statement read by Mr Parsley: “Following the operation Sue’s stomach was left open and she was taken to the intensive care unit.”

He said he was told that his wife was also suffering from a “rampant infection” which was putting a strain on her kidneys.

Mr Warby said he was told that during his wife’s operation, an arterial line was fitted with an intravenous (IV) infusion to keep it clear.

Mrs Warby was incorrectly given glucose instead of saline, Mr Warby said.

“I asked what the effect of this could be and the consultant told me brain damage or death,” he said, adding he was later told there was “no new irreversible brain damage”.

He said that his wife’s condition was “very up and down” in the following days and her arterial line was replaced with a line into a central vein on August 7.

During this operation, Mrs Warby suffered a punctured lung.

Mr Warby said he was told it “could be a very tricky procedure” but that it was carried out by a “junior” member of staff.

“I’m concerned that a consultant should have performed the procedure due to her being critically ill,” he said.

He said that a week later, Mrs Warby contracted a fungal infection and the family agreed to withdraw active treatment.

Mrs Warby’s medical cause of death was recorded as multi-organ failure, with contributory causes including septicaemia and pneumonia.

The inquest heard she had been diagnosed with the digestive condition diverticular disease in 1997.

Consultant surgeon Dr Amitabh Mishra, who operated on Mrs Warby, said: “Given how unwell she was, it was decided to proceed directly to an open operation.”

He said she was assessed as having an 84.8% risk of mortality, taking into account her underlying factors including her hypertension and that she was a smoker.

The inquest, listed for two days, continues.

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