Anonymous NHS whistleblowing at Hinchingbrooke – more failure of the Freedom to Speak Up project

Summary It appears from anonymous letters that staff at Hinchingbrooke Hospital may be whistleblowing about care failure surrounding A&E.  The trust’s response so far is one of bizarre minimalisation, despite acknowledging some care failure. The trust’s CEO appears to think that anonymous letters are a sign that staff feel able to raise concerns, which hardly bodes well for organisational learning.

Hinchingbrooke hospital is a long suffering district hospital service that was abused as political pawn in a  botched privatisation scandal costing the taxpayer millions, with key players as ever protected and recycled.

Like the rest of the NHS it has suffered the enormous stresses of the mismanagement of the COVID19 pandemic by the government.

It is now disturbed by anonymous whistleblowing by parties unknown. Disclosures have been made to trust managers and to at least one patient affected by a failure of tetanus management.

Unvaccinated patients presenting with injuries should have had their vaccinations histories checked and been given tetanus booster shots but allegedly, some did not.

This has been confirmed in one case, that of Marilyn Smith, reported by the BBC.

Hinchingbrooke Hospital patient sent ‘whistleblower’ letters

Ms Smith contracted tetanus after an injury in September 2021, for which she did not receive a tetanus shot. As a result she was severely unwell and hospitalised for 120 days and left with disabilities.

Two weeks after she was discharged from hospital, Ms Smith reportedly received several anonymous letters which claimed to come from:

“a group of current and previous A&E staff at Hinchingbrooke”

The letter described alleged shortcomings in her care and also claimed:

“the trust has been ignoring concerns about patient safety” and contained further allegations that related to an individual.”

The last NHS staff survey showed that the trust’s whistleblowing governance was on a downward trajectory:

The trust’s response to the BBC appeared somewhat self-contradictory.

It claimed that the trust had received and investigated a similar letter in October 2021and dismissed the concerns.

“The North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust confirmed it had received a similar letter in October but after an investigation concluded there was no substance to the allegations about patient safety.”

“In a statement, Caroline Walker, chief executive of the trust, said they were meeting Ms Smith this week to discuss its investigation and report.

And yet the trust also conceded shortcomings in Marilyn Smith’s care:

“I would like to apologise to Marilyn Smith for the failure to identify her condition as quickly as we should have,” she said.

Bizarrely, the trust CEO seemed to conclude that an anonymous letter was a sign that staff felt able to raise concerns:

“We welcome the fact that our staff feel able to raise concerns.

“We have worked hard, with the support of our Freedom To Speak Up Guardian, to encourage an environment where speaking up is something people can do with confidence.

“When issues are raised we take action to investigate and learn from them.”

That Olympic-Gold-level ostriching rather takes the biscuit.

This is therefore unlikely to be the last that we will hear about poor whistleblowing governance by North West Anglia.

Or about the woeful inadequacies of the Freedom To Speak Up project, which clearly does not provide a safe reporting channel when it really matters.

Declaration of interest: A member of my family has been injured on a number of occasions by Peterborough City Hospital, which is part of the above trust. We are wearily in conflict with the trust again over yet another episode of care failure, which they have admitted. Relevant to issues of transparency, the trust is overdue in responding to a subject access request for personal data, made directly to the trust CEO, which required a referral to the ICO.


Please click and add your signature to this petition to reform UK whistleblowing law – whistleblowers protect us all but weak UK law leaves them wholly exposed and it is a threat to public safety

Replace weak UK whistleblowing law and protect whistleblowers and the public


The latest Hinchingbrooke affair is similar to the West Suffolk whistleblower staff fingerprinting scandal, now formally reported by a review:

West Suffolk Review by Christine Outram published by NHS Improvement 9 December 2021

Some broad background on the inadequacies of the UK government’s Freedom To Speak Up Project:

The toothlessness of the National Guardian’s Office: Why it cannot be a model for protecting whistleblowers

The Disinterested National Guardian & Robert Francis’ Unworkable Freedom To Speak Up Project

One thought on “Anonymous NHS whistleblowing at Hinchingbrooke – more failure of the Freedom to Speak Up project

  1. Good to have you back!
    But sad to see the familiar display of NHS inabilities.
    As always, thank you for the information.


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