NHS manager who ‘ignored serious concerns’ about Lucy Letby suspended

Ms Kelly is now a director of nursing at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Trust in the Manchester area
Alison Kelly is now a director of nursing at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Trust in the Manchester area

A senior NHS manager who allegedly ignored warnings over serial baby killer Lucy Letby has been suspended, The Telegraph has learned.

Alison Kelly was accused in court of failing to act when doctors raised “serious concerns” about the nurse during her tenure as director of nursing and quality at the Countess of Chester Hospital where Letby murdered seven babies.

Ms Kelly is now a director of nursing at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Trust in the Manchester area and local politicians called for her position to be investigated by ministers.

It emerged on Sunday that she has now been suspended due to several allegations that emerged during the court case.

An NHS England spokesperson told The Telegraph: “We welcome the independent inquiry announced by the Department of Health and Social Care into the events at the Countess of Chester and will cooperate fully to help ensure all lessons are learned.

“In light of information that has emerged during the trial of Lucy Letby, and the announcement of the independent inquiry, the Northern Care Alliance has suspended Alison Kelly.”

It comes as NHS managers who are accused of ignoring repeated warnings that Letby posed a threat to babies face the possibility of losing their pensions if convicted of corporate manslaughter or criminal negligence.

Ms Kelly is the most senior nurse at the Salford and Rochdale organisations within the Northern Care Alliance in the North-West of England. It is one of the largest NHS trusts in the country and employs 20,000 staff.

The Telegraph understands that politicians in the area were deeply concerned to learn that Ms Kelly was still in a senior management position.

It was more than eight years ago, in July 2015, when Ms Kelly was first told that Letby was the only nurse on shift when three babies died within two weeks of one another.

Alison Kelly
Alison Kelly was the director of nursing and quality at the Countess of Chester Hospital

Letby would go on to murder four more babies following concerns first being raised with Ms Kelly, the first just one month after Ms Kelly received a report from lead consultant Dr Stephen Brearey.

Ms Kelly was contacted again in February 2016 by Dr Brearey who, as part of a review, found common links in nine deaths stretching back to mid-2015.

Executives only launched a formal investigation in July 2016. Although Letby was then removed from the unit, the police were not contacted until May 2017.

The nurse, now 33, murdered seven babies and attempted to kill another six. She is the worst child serial killer in modern Britain.

Reports over the weekend claim Letby may have harmed dozens more children while working in two hospitals in the North-West.

The website of the NHS’s Rochdale Care Organisation, where Ms Kelly is still listed as director of nursing as well as being down as the interim director of nursing at neighbouring Salford organisation, claims Ms Kelly “led on a number of improvement programmes of work” during her eight-year tenure at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

Politicians in the region told The Telegraph Ms Kelly’s current position, which is a band nine role with a salary of around £100,000 a year, was untenable.

Paul Bristow, a Tory MP and health select committee member, said: “Evidence from this dreadful trial seems to suggest that Ms Kelly was repeatedly made aware of the consultant’s concerns but these were not acted on promptly.

“This may have had disastrous consequences. There are many questions for Ms Kelly and others to answer at the subsequent independent inquiry.

“Families and clinicians could be forgiven for thinking Ms Kelly shouldn’t have similar responsibilities in Rochdale while these questions remain unanswered.”

Lucy Letby
The neonatal nurse was found guilty of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill another six - Chester Standard/SWNS.com

On Sunday one MP in the Greater Manchester area told The Telegraph: “I am bound to be approaching health ministers on this issue because my constituents are entitled to know that senior management in their trust are competent.”

Another said: “I was not aware of her position and it is concerning. I will be looking into it this week.”

Since Letby was convicted on Friday of murdering seven infants and attempting to kill six more, attention has turned to the failings of senior management at the trust.

Dr Brearey told Manchester Crown Court that he and his consultant colleagues had repeatedly called on senior management to take action.

Tony Lloyd, Labour MP for Rochdale, told The Telegraph a review is needed to ensure current NHS leaders do not make the same mistakes as those which prevented the earlier capture of Letby.

“It is obvious from the witness statements from the senior doctors involved that there now has to be a very rapid review into the actions of senior management who were involved at the time, most certainly to learn the lessons, but also - frankly - to make sure that those who may have made disastrous decisions are properly held to account,” he told The Telegraph.

Ms Kelly is the only one of the senior leadership team mentioned during the trial to still work for the NHS. The terms of her suspension, which happened recently, remain unknown.

The Countess of Chester Hospital
The Countess of Chester Hospital - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe

Ian Harvey, the medical director at the Countess Hospital at the time of the murders, has since retired and moved to France; Karen Rees, the then head of nursing and urgent care, has retired and is selling luxury holiday rentals in Wales; and Tony Chambers, the CEO, in June ended a role as interim CEO of The Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Trust in West Sussex.

A senior consultant paediatrician who gave evidence at the serial killer’s trial has accused executives at the Cheshire hospital where she worked of “gross negligence”.

Dr Dewi Evans, a National Crime Agency-accredited expert, is to write to Cheshire Police urging them to investigate the hospital’s management over its “grossly irresponsible” failure to act.

The move raises the prospect that hospital bosses who have amassed pension pots worth more than £1 million could lose their incomes.

Under NHS pension rules, a member of its scheme can lose their rights to their retirement income if found guilty of a criminal offence.

The guidelines say that the Secretary of State for Health has “the power to authorise forfeiture of the whole, or any part, of any benefits” if a member “is convicted of a serious offence in connection with his NHS employment”.

The documents, called “Dismissal Exit Code”, lists what constitutes a “serious offence” and includes a conviction that “leads to a serious loss of confidence in the public service”.

A legal source said: “I think a corporate manslaughter conviction linked to a serial killer nurse remaining on a neonatal ward definitely constitutes something akin to loss of confidence in the health service.”

A court sketch of Lucy Letby giving evidence in the dock at Manchester Crown Court
A court sketch of Lucy Letby giving evidence in the dock at Manchester Crown Court - Elizabeth Cook/PA

Dr Evans, 74, who has provided medical evidence in hundreds of cases for more than 30 years, was a key witness at Manchester Crown Court about each of Letby’s 13 victims.

“I shall write to Cheshire police and ask them, from what I have heard following the end of the trial, that I believe that we should now investigate a number of managerial people in relation to issues of corporate manslaughter,” he told the Observer.

“I think this is a matter that demands an investigation into corporate manslaughter. The police should also investigate the [hospital] in relation to criminal negligence.

“Failing to act was grossly irresponsible – let’s make it as clear as that. We are talking about a serious emergency. It’s grossly irresponsible and, quite frankly, unbelievable [that they failed to act sooner].”

Calls for a police investigation have come after it emerged one manager concluded Letby’s links to children collapsing was nothing “other than coincidence”.

A statement from Dr Nigel Scawn, the medical director of the Countess of Chester NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I speak for the whole Trust when I say how deeply saddened and appalled we are at Lucy Letby’s crimes.

“We are extremely sorry that these crimes were committed at our hospital and our thoughts continue to be with all the families and loved ones of the babies who came to harm or died. We cannot begin to understand what they have been through.

“Since Lucy Letby worked at our hospital, we have made significant changes to our services. I want to provide reassurance that every patient who accesses our services can have confidence in the care they will receive.

“And, most importantly, our thoughts are with all the families and loved ones at this very difficult time.”

Jane Tomkinson, acting chief executive officer at the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Following the trial of former neonatal nurse Lucy Letby, the trust welcomes the announcement of an independent inquiry by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition, the trust will be supporting the ongoing investigation by Cheshire Police. Due to ongoing legal considerations, it would not be appropriate for the trust to make any further comment at this time.”