Woolley Words

Luke Jenkins’ parents have provided their view of the behaviour of University Hospitals Bristol Chief Executive, Robert Woolley and his Deputy Deborah Lee.


Our experiences are similar. We have offered Mr Woolley several opportunities to meet us, to no avail. We think that he and his colleagues are too ungracious and fearful of the truth to meet for open and honest discussion. In 2011 he even rebuffed the offer of Member of Parliament, Steve Webb to facilitate discussions with members of South Gloucestershire Local Involvement Network (1) concerned about his histopathology and paediatric pathology service.

In March 2012 a Panel which inquired into Bristol’s histopathology and paediatric pathology problems, chaired by Jane Mishcon, returned to Bristol to see what progress was being made with the implementation of its recommendations. Nearly two years later any meaningful information on progress remains concealed from patients and the public. We conclude that Mr Woolley has no satisfactory progress to report otherwise he would not be so secretive about it. 

Below is an extract from the transcript of our March 2012 meeting with the Mishcon Panel. University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust member, misdiagnosis victim and former nursing sister Mrs Catherine Calland speaks about the Trust’s 2011 Annual Members’ Meeting that she attended with another Trust member, Mrs Daphne Havercroft.

As we left the meeting, we were followed out by Charlie Helps, the Trust Board Secretary, on a fishing expedition no doubt. He was asking what was our agenda and things like that, and I asked him “why won’t they meet us in a forum and let us ask the questions and let them in a no-nonsense way tell the truth”. I said mostly that is what we want because, unless you have the truth, you cannot move forward. We are all on the same side, we all want a safe service for ourselves, for our families and for the people of Bristol. If we work together, we would be a formidable team. When I asked why won’t they meet us, he said “they are afraid for their jobs”. That is what the Trust Board Secretary said. What else can you say?”

We understand that Mr Helps has recently denied saying this. Mrs Calland and Mrs Havercroft stand by this account. They do not lie.

We believe that much of the blame for Bristol’s failure to learn lessons from past problems can be laid at the door of Miss Mishcon and her Panel:

Mrs Havercroft: Why didn’t you investigate why the lessons had not been learned from the Kennedy Report (2)? Your inquiry did not investigate that, why didn’t it?

Ms Mishcon: That was not what we were there to do.

Panel Member – Dr Margaret Spittle:

The (pathology) department has now been given a coat of paint. They now have rooms where they are going to do reporting and welcoming other pathologists to come and look at slides. I was enormously pleased…..”

 Mrs Calland: “I want to give you a reality check here. Mr Woolley stands up at all of the Health Scrutiny Committees (3) as if  “I have done my bit”, and “any patient who has been misdiagnosed, I apologise” – his back is always to you. He said they have the opportunity to talk to their consultant, they can see anything, they can go round the labs. I don’t need to go round the labs, I went round the labs with a relative of mine as a child, I know how tissue is set, I know about paraffin blocks, I know about all of that. I then took the letter that Dr Burton (North Bristol NHS Trust Medical Director) sent me about my misdiagnosis because I was told to discuss it with my oncologist at my next appointment, and I gave him the letter. He looked terribly uncomfortable, he did not say anything, just shoved the letter back to me and said nothing, that was it, that was my reassurance. Is this the sort of service you want?”

Miss Mishcon and her Panel (paid for by the public), failed to investigate why the lessons of Kennedy had not been learned in Bristol. This serious omission simply gave Mr Woolley, Ms Lee and their board colleagues the green light to carry on as before – taking unacceptable risks with patient care and trying to cover up when it goes wrong. The tragic consequence of this is evident in their Trust’s treatment of Luke Jenkins, Sean Turner and their families, and the fact that other families are coming forward to tell of their experiences in Bristol.

What the (Histopathology) Inquiry report reminds us is that the system is most safe when all parts of it contribute in a spirit of openness and collaboration, putting the patient’s interests first.”

It’s over three years since Mr Woolley said this at the press release of the Mishcon Inquiry Report. We want to know if he and his board are ever going to practise what they preach. The message we take from his and Ms Lee’s behaviour is that, despite the heroic efforts of their staff who do their best for patients (and we don’t mean staff who become implicated in shameful cover ups of the truth about failings), overall University Hospitals Bristol’s systems are not safe because Mr Woolley, Ms Lee and their board are not open, do not collaborate and do not put patients’ interests first.

The board of University Hospitals Bristol still prioritises defence, denial, reputation management and damage limitation over patients  – all the things that must be driven out of the NHS if it is to be safe in the aftermath of the Mid Staffordshire Inquiry and the Berwick Review into patient safety.

An NHS Trust Board like University Hospitals Bristol’s, which refuses to understand this, is a risk to patient safety and public protection. 

(1) Local Involvement Network – a network of local people, organisations and groups that want to make care services better. Superseded by Healthwatch in April 2013

(2) Kennedy Inquiry – The Public Inquiry chaired by Professor Ian Kennedy to inquire into the management of the care of children receiving complex cardiac surgical services at the Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1984 and 1995. The Report was published in 2001. 

(3) Health Scrutiny Committee – a local council committee which scrutinises local NHS and social care services. 

 © South West Whistleblowers Health Action Group 2014


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