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Mortuary assaults trust struggled to carry out regular criminal records checks

Published on: 3 Feb 2022

The HR department at a trust where a maintenance man molested bodies in the hospital’s mortuary has struggled to carry out regular criminal records checks on staff, according to a paper discussed by the trust’s board.

The board report, which highlight concerns around the disclosure and barring service checks, also revealed an external report, commissioned before David Fuller’s horrific crimes came to light, had uncovered evidence of “failure and underperformance” in the trust’s workforce directorate.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust said there was no connection between the review or the decision to introduce more regular criminal record checks – or the separate project which found problems with the trust’s disclosure and barring service checks process – and Mr Fuller’s crimes.

The trust said in its board papers the external review was commissioned in 2020 after “a number of significant events” but it does not elaborate on what those events were.

The review, the author of which was not made public, was discussed by the board in a private session at the time, but not made public. However, a business case for investment to address some of the workforce directorate’s shortcomings was published in the trust’s January board papers.

It said the review was “challenging in the issues that it highlighted and required significant change to be taken forward”.

Trust admits problems identified with disclosure and barring service

However, the board papers also say that resourcing issues had been highlighted more recently than the external review – although it does not specify exactly when – with a project looking at its disclosure and barring service checks.

Problems identified included “a lack of compliance checking” and a “failure to maintain effective records on ESR [electronic staff record]”.

The trust policy on checks was only met with the use of temporary staff and overtime, according to the board papers.

The trust said the problems were not with DBS checks at the point of employment, but with carrying out three-yearly follow up ones, a policy it had introduced in October 2020. Again, it reiterated, this was not related to the Fuller case.

Mr Fuller, a maintenance supervisor at Tunbridge Wells Hospital, had been abusing women’s and girls’ bodies in hospital mortuaries since 2008 and has since been jailed for the sexual offences and two unrelated murders.

An independent inquiry is looking at his recruitment and employment by the NHS and its sub-contractors and whether “appropriate checks” were carried out before and during his employment. He was employed by the trust until 2011 and then by the company providing facilities management services to the trust at the newly built Tunbridge Wells hospital.

Trust spending 40pc less than average on People function

The “people and organisational development” external review concluded the trust was spending 40 per cent less than average on its people and organisational development function and this meant that the team “are routinely only able to perform and respond at a reactive level,” according to the board papers.

The review found there was little confidence that issues of “bullying, harassment and levels of incivility” raised through the Freedom to Speak Up process were addressed. There were also “issues of behaviour and culture that were raised within the [people and OD] team and from external customers.”

The board backed additional investment in staffing of £1m a year after hearing that it could generate some efficiencies – such as through investment in digital transformation which would reduce the number of queries and manual processing staff had to deal with.

Much of the extra money will go on 20 new staff posts, aiming to strengthen the trust’s capacity in organisational development and health and wellbeing in particular.

A spokesman for the trust said: “In 2020, the trust commissioned an external review of our HR function to enable us to improve and prioritise a number of key areas including the recruitment and retention of our workforce and staff health and wellbeing. 

“We have since made some changes in leadership and a recent business case is designed to do this, improving our services for staff and patients with investment in wellbeing for colleagues.”