An anonymous survey is to be sent to all nurses, midwives, doctors and managers in hospitals with neonatal units as part of the inquiry into the murder and attempted murder of babies by former nurse Lucy Letby.
Lady Justice Thirlwall, chair of the inquiry, released some details of the planned process in an opening address published on the official website for the hearings.
The short survey will ask the workers directly for their views on the ‘culture’ in their units.
‘I hope and expect that those who receive it will find the few minutes needed to complete it,’ said Lady Justice Thirlwall.
‘Each response will play an important part in telling the inquiry what people on the ground really think.’
Former health and social care secretary Steve Barclay announced plans for the inquiry in August, following verdicts in the Letby trial that found her guilty of seven counts of murder and seven further counts of attempted murder between June 2015 and June 2016 while working in the neonatal unit at Countess of Chester Hospital.
Letby, who has lodged an appeal against the verdicts, was sentenced to a whole life order at Manchester Crown Court, and also faces retrial for one of six counts of attempted murder left open at the original trial.
The pending retrial and appeal judgment, as well as ongoing police investigations into Letby’s actions and a potential case of corporate manslaughter against the hospital trust, mean the inquiry hearings will not start until September 2024 at the earliest.
As well as the short survey of workers, a ‘wide-ranging and detailed’ questionnaire has been sent to every hospital in England with a neonatal unit.
The survey is to be completed by both the medical director and a senior non-clinical manager at each hospital, and includes questions about whether there is CCTV on neonatal units and, if not, whether consideration has been given to installing it in the light of the Letby case.
Those particular questions arose from suggestions made by some of the parents affected by Letby’s crimes, Lady Justice Thirwall revealed.
‘I am grateful for their help on this and so many other matters,’ she said.
The chair added that part of the inquiry will look at the wider NHS, examining relationships between the various groups of professionals, the culture within hospitals and how these affect the safety of newborns in neonatal units.
‘No one can argue with the proposition that babies in neonatal units must be kept safe and well cared for,’ said Lady Justice Thirwall.
‘What is needed is the practical application of that proposition everywhere.’
She added: ‘In many units it will require profound changes in relationships and culture.
‘This may not be easy to achieve but it is necessary and long overdue.
‘The barriers to change must be identified if that hasn’t been done already and those barriers must be removed. Where there is good practice, that must be shared.’