A trust which hired the former chief executive of the Countess of Chester Hospital as an interim CEO has launched a review of decisions about safety and whistleblowing taken under his leadership.
Jacqui Smith, chair-in-common at Barts Health and Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals trusts, made the announcement at a board meeting, following the nurse Lucy Letby’s conviction for murdering seven babies, and attempting to murder six more, between June 2015 and June 2016.
Tony Chambers was Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust CEO for six years from December 2012 to September 2018, and resigned shortly after Letby’s initial arrest. His role – and that of fellow senior managers in Chester – in responding to concerns raised by doctors, has come under intense scrutiny since the verdicts.
Mr Chambers served as BHRUT’s interim chief from January 2020 until August 2021, and Ms Smith told BHRUT’s board on Thursday: “In the light of concerns, particularly around listening to staff and patients, and given the seriousness of the events, we will undertake a look at the periods of Tony Chambers’ tenure.
“To see whether there are, firstly, any significant decisions taken regarding quality and safety that we need to look at again, and [secondly], checking our log of whistleblowing cases and other concerns to make sure that they have been appropriately followed up.
“We will report back to the board once that process has been completed.
“It is worth noting and saying, however, that less than three months after Mr Chambers started at this trust, the pandemic began. As a result, much of the usual business of the trust was suspended.
“At present, we have no evidence of any matters of concern.”
The trust’s next board meeting is scheduled for early November. Ms Smith told Thursday’s meeting that Mr Chambers “was appointed following a competitive recruitment process”.
A public inquiry has been announced into the Letby case, and Ms Smith also noted that the trust may be asked to contribute directly to the inquiry depending on its terms of reference.
HSJ has approached Mr Chambers. Following Letby’s conviction, he said he was “truly sorry for what all the families have gone through” and was “deeply saddened by what has come to light”.
He added: “I was open and inclusive as I responded to information and guidance. There are always lessons to be learned and the best place for this to be achieved would be through an independent inquiry. I will cooperate fully and openly.”
He also issued a more detailed defence of his actions in Chester. No investigation into his conduct, and that of senior colleagues, has been published so far.
The Chester trust commissioned an external review in spring 2020 of the management response to early concerns raised about Letby.
The report is believed to be largely complete, but the trust said this week it “will [still] need to undergo due diligence and independent legal processes”, and that it wanted to consult the chair of the public inquiry about its “next steps regarding the investigation report”.
After BHRUT, Mr Chambers later took up interim roles as CEO at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, then at Queen Victoria Hospital FT. He was appointed at QVHFT during the Letby trial and left the trust this June, earlier than expected.
HSJ has asked both trusts whether they plan to undertake similar board assurance reviews but neither have responded to requests for comment.