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Watchdog backs Lucy Letby public inquiry and warns of need to root out NHS ‘culture of fear’

The health watchdog has joined calls for a full public inquiry into failings surrounding the Lucy Letby baby murders, warning that the NHS has a “culture of fear” in which leaders dismiss staff concerns.

The parliamentary health service ombudsman, Rob Behrens, has written to the health secretary warning that the culture of fear in NHS trusts is “not isolated” to the serial killer nurse’s hospital.

Letby, 33, Britain’s most prolific child killer, is serving a whole-life sentence for murdering seven babies and attempting to murder six more between 2015 and 2016.

Following her conviction, reports surfaced that doctors had tried to raise concerns about her but their complaints were “ignored” by NHS executives at the Countess of Chester Hospital allowing her to continue her horrific killing spree.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced an independent inquiry after the verdicts were returned, but the grieving families of Letby’s victims, whistleblowers and campaigners are concerned it lacks the legal powers needed to compel those who might come under scrutiny to give evidence.

And calls for the inquiry to be converted into a statutory inquiry have continued to grow.

Dame Vera Baird KC, the UK’s former national victims’ commissioner, on Wednesday told The Independent the probe must be strengthened.

Ms Baird said there “must be a duty of candour” and called for a “radical change of attitude” to victims in the Letby case.

“Poor grieving victims are treated as partisan and their views are downgraded. The scepticism of a complacent establishment,” she added.

Mother recalls moment she found Lucy Letby standing over newborn baby’s cot

Downing Street on Monday said “all options are on the table”, suggesting ministers were considering upgrading its powers.

Raising the issue of a public inquiry with Mr Barclay in a letter on Wednesday, Mr Berhens wrote: “Only a statutory inquiry can provide the strong legal powers necessary to compel witnesses and the release of evidence. The inquiry should have all possible levers available to it to get to the truth. The families involved deserve no less.”

“We cannot let the environment in which Letby was allowed to perpetrate her crimes emerge again. What we heard during the trial was a culture of defensive leadership, a leadership that was more concerned about reputation than patient safety. Clinicians were not listened to when they raised concerns. They were silenced and treated as troublemakers and threatened with disciplinary action.”

He said although the actions of Lucy Letby were “extremely rare” the “culture of fear in NHS trusts is not isolated to this case”.

Mr Berhens warned there was a “pattern of behaviour” in the NHS in which leaders dismiss staff concerns and that some workers “still pay a heavy price for speaking up and this victimisation discourages others from coming forward”.

“It is unacceptable and against the principles of what the NHS stands for,” he added.

Earlier this year, Mr Berhens wrote to the government demanding it carry out a review of NHS compliance with the “duty of candour” law, and that it commission an independent review of patient safety bodies.

The Department for Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.