Protest over inquiry hospital 'wall of silence'

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The Independent Online
POLICE will start a full investigation on 15 March into allegations that life-support machines in a hospital intensive care unit were tampered with by a member of staff.

Joe Ashton, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, in Nottinghamshire, said yesterday he had come up against a wall of silence imposed by management at Bassetlaw District General Hospital, which has ordered staff not to speak about the incidents.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, told Mr Ashton that she would not intervene because it was for the hospital's governing trust to decide. But Mr Ashton said he had gathered new information which he would pass on to the police.

Detectives were called in after the hospital, a trust since April 1992, carried out a month- long internal inquiry into a number of unexplained incidents involving ventilators and other equipment in the hospital's intensive care ward. A member of staff has been suspended since 21 January.

The Bassetlaw issued a statement on 2 March saying it did not believe that any patient had been directly affected by the incidents, but a report on its internal investigation has not been published. Mr Ashton is demanding that it is.

Yesterday the MP said that his constituents whose relatives had died at the hospital were extremely concerned about information in the report.

'When I put questions to the Health Department they just fobbed me off, saying I have to talk to the trust. They are a law unto themselves, unlike the NHS, so they can threaten people with the sack and carry out the threat if they talk. I've got some information which I have to verify. When I do, I shall be passing it over to the police.'

The trust falls within Trent Regional Health Authority, which employed Beverley Allitt, a nurse who killed four children in her care and injured nine others. Allitt, who worked at Grantham and Kesteven General Hospital, is serving 13 life sentences. The official report into her case blamed a combination of overworked doctors, a nursing shortage and weak hospital management.

A hospital spokesman confirmed yesterday that the member of staff was still suspended: 'The police have been collecting evidence and will commence the investigation fully on 15 March.

'I have no other comment to make.'

No comment was available from the police and the Department of Health said it would be 'inappropriate to comment until after the police investigation is complete'.

The Allitt inquiry, headed by Sir Cecil Clothier QC, said the nurse, who suffered from the personality disorder Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, could have been prevented from attacking some of her victims if vital clues had been spotted.

Mr Ashton said he feared that similar circumstanes might prevail in this case. 'Already there are suggestions that the hospital knew the background of this person and that there was cause for concern.'