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I’m a midwife – what happened with Lucy Letby can never be allowed to happen again

Midwife Lizzie Romain reflects on the wider implications of the Lucy Letby case for fellow healthcare workers – and how it could impact the future of neonatal care

Sunday 20 August 2023 16:14 BST
The thought of anyone knowingly harming a patient under their care goes against the compassion that drives people to become healthcare workers
The thought of anyone knowingly harming a patient under their care goes against the compassion that drives people to become healthcare workers (PA Media)

I’ve been a midwife for the past 12 years. When I began my training at the age of 18, our tiny cohort of 30 midwives was more like a family than it was a class. We had lectures alongside nurses in our first year of university, and there is a communal sense of understanding among healthcare workers.

It’s like we “get it”, without needing to utter a single word. The feeling is so strong that I once had a gut sense that I was sat across from another healthcare worker on the Tube, before an ID badge spilling onto the carriage floor from their bag confirmed my suspicions.

This doesn’t just apply to nurses and midwives – it stretches its hand across doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants and other medical personnel, too.

Labour ward midwives have a close working relationship with the neonatal unit, as it takes over from us once we’ve assisted in the delivery of preterm and sick babies who need ongoing care and attention. I’ve helped to transfer babies on numerous occasions, rolling them down the corridor in an incubator and through the door attaching the delivery suite to the neonatal intensive care department.

Midwifery isn’t a job where you can just close your laptop at the end of the day and forget about it until tomorrow. It’s a vocation. Often, we call up the unit after hours to check in on our patients’ wellbeing, and I’ve continued to visit parents and their babies on subsequent shifts.

It’s the most glorious thing when you catch two parents finally bringing in the car seat after having spent months going back and forth from home to the hospital to visit their preterm baby. Finally – it’s home time.

I was at work when I first heard about Lucy Letby’s trial, and I immediately felt a bit sick. I’ve never known or worked alongside her, but the thought of anyone knowingly harming a patient under their care just goes completely against the compassion that, I believe, drives people to become healthcare workers in the first place. It’s completely against everything that I know, and that I’ve experienced, in my working life.

Unwanted outcomes happen from time to time – childbirth can be unpredictable – and I’ve seen the emotional repercussions. Fellow colleagues have absolutely crumbled from their experiences. It’s terrifying, and I’m sure many nurses and midwives carry around a certain level of PTSD from situations they’ve witnessed during their careers.

Hospitals try their best to protect against similar events happening again, and rigorous clinical governance processes exist at the heart of every NHS trust. At the end of the day, hospitals don’t want to be “failing”. No one wants to be doing a bad job.

We’ve certainly felt the repercussions of working through a global pandemic, and experienced extremely challenging working conditions of late – but I’ve never known a single colleague to go to court after having caused deliberate harm. People walk with their feet if they’ve had enough of it all – they don’t turn into serial killers.

On Friday, the video of Lucy Letby being arrested in July 2018 was released into the public domain, and I happened to catch the news with my colleagues. We were all shocked. She looks just like any other nurse or colleague we’ve worked alongside. The photos of her out with friends being shown across the broadcast news networks are just ordinary.

The emotional fallout from this case will be a pandemic in itself. I had to turn off the news on Saturday night because it all just felt a little too close to home. I totally understand that live news outlets will – accidentally I’m sure – pass the odd sweeping generalisation, but I really hope that the nursing and midwifery profession won’t be tarnished as a result of this. It’s heartbreaking to even contemplate.

The shockwaves will come, though – and they need to come. I feel for the families whose lives have been affected, and the other healthcare professionals from the Countess of Chester Hospital who would have gone through the wringer over the last five to eight years.

Imagine being a nurse or a medic on the unit at the time, perhaps also having been suspected by others of being a killer. Or having to testify against a former friend and/or colleague? My heart goes out to them all.

These cases might well be rare, but this cannot ever be allowed to happen again.

Lizzie Romain is a practising midwife on the NMC register

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