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Bishop of London calls for further probing into hospital culture after Lucy Letby case

13 September 2023

Alamy

The Countess of Chester Hospital

The Countess of Chester Hospital

THE Government should investigate why existing patient-safety and whistleblowing policies did not prevent the crimes of Lucy Letby, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, has said.

Miss Letby was convicted last month for the murder of seven babies and the attempted murder of six others, and was subsequently given a whole-life sentence.

Bishop Mullally, a former Chief Nursing Officer for England, was speaking in the House of Lords last week in response to a government statement on the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Miss Letby’s crimes. The Government had announced that the inquiry would now be statutory, and so would have legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath.

Bishop Mullally spoke of the “awful and unimaginable atrocities” carried out by Miss Letby, and welcomed the fact that the inquiry would now be statutory.

But she asked Lord Hallam, a health minister, whether the Government would examine why “policies, procedures, and bodies that are already in place, with the aspiration of improving patient safety and enabling people to whistleblow, were not enough to prevent this”.

More than policies and procedures should be reviewed, she said. “What was the culture that enabled this to happen? How might we recognise it and prevent it happening again?”

Responding to the question of why the bodies in place did not pick up on Miss Letby’s crimes, Lord Hallam said: “Obviously we will learn more as the inquiry goes along, but one of the major things for me when I looked at this was the fact that, because a lot of those cases did not go to a coroner, the medical-examiner system was not fully in place at that point; so there was no other set of eyes in all that.

“I have to believe that, if the medical examiners had looked at that, they would have picked it up incredibly quickly. The fact that is now being put in place, so that everything will have to be overviewed by a medical examiner or a coroner, will be a key issue in all this.”

Lord Hallam also said that it was clear that the culture at the Countess of Chester Hospital “was not right”.

Earlier in the day, Bishop Mullally had asked the Treasury minister Baroness Penn how the Government would mitigate the effect of overseas aid cuts on women and girls in developing countries. The Bishop drew attention to an equality impact assessment published by the International Development Committee, which said that the cuts could lead to a rise in maternal deaths.

Lady Penn replied: “In various international development strategy documents, we have . . . set out how we will prioritise spending to the lowest-income households in humanitarian efforts, while aligning our programmes further with our ambitions on supporting women and girls in order to address the issues that the Right Reverend Prelate has set out.”

On Thursday of last week, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, contributed to a Lords debate on life skills and citizenship teaching in schools.

Research suggested, he said, that only five per cent of parents believed that their children were leaving school with adequate skills to manage their money. He asked what steps the Government was taking to extend the work of programmes such as LifeSavers, which operates in church schools. He also called on the Government to support the Church of England project Living Well Together, which “aims to help young people and equip them to better understand different beliefs”.

In response, Baroness Barran, an education minister, said that the Government wanted “pupils to leave school prepared for further study, work and other aspects of adult life”. Schools had “considerable flexibility to organise the content and delivery of their curriculums”, she said.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke in a Grand Committee debate, on Wednesday of last week, on a report, A Failure of Implementation, published by the Children and Families Act 2014 Committee.

The Children and Families Act had made “huge steps to improve the lives of children and their families”, he said, yet “the promising policy changes that the Act was intended to make have not been implemented as all of us had hoped”. There had been a lack of post-legislative scrutiny.

He continued: “We must ensure that the policies we debate in this House are not simply words and fantastical ideals but become reality. I therefore support the recommendation from the Committee that the Government produce a detailed plan for post-legislative scrutiny when an Act reaches Royal Assent.”

Bishop Butler also called for more resources for family courts, so that divorce proceedings were not delayed. Listening to the views of children during proceedings would speed up proceedings, he said. He also urged the Government “to ensure that more advice and signposting for support are available for those going through family court proceedings”.

On Monday of last week, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, spoke during a debate on amendments to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, on the sixth day of the Report Stage. He spoke in support of an amendment which would require the Government to update the definition of affordable housing.

“The first is that the object of central government policy and of legislation should always be the ready provision of good housing — homes in which people want to live, in areas capable of flourishing,” he said. “Too often, sadly, that is not the case, and we build among the smallest dwellings in Europe.

“Secondly, we require a bipartisan approach that enables a consistent policy to be followed across decades, and not one that is beholden to the sort of interests that have so limited housebuilding. . . Thirdly, we require a definition of affordable housing that relates specifically to income. Without this, any policy on affordable housing will fail.”

The amendment fell.

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