By Nora Johnson • 31 August 2023 • 10:25
A picture of Lucy Letby
Credit: Nurse Lucy Letby/Facebook
Two scarcely comprehensible questions remain about the monstrous serial killer/psychopathic nurse Lucy Letby: why did she do it — and why didn’t the hospital stop her?
We may never know what exactly motivated Letby – ‘poster girl’ for her hospital’s fundraising appeal – to commit her evil acts. But the second question as to how the case was handled – the catastrophic and deadly failure by NHS administrators – is even more baffling.
Fundamentally, the NHS must learn from this latest shocking failure that stems, partly, from an unwillingness to confront the worst-case scenario, but mainly from a need to protect the reputation of the hospital and its administrators. Just how ready are other NHS hospitals to heed the warnings of whistle-blowers and act on them promptly?
The lead consultant in this case raised the alarm early on after a string of unexplained deaths in the neonatal unit – Letby on duty for all five. Senior administrators ignored it, just as they ignored the specific claims about Letby he later made. After another two babies died he directly advised a hospital executive to remove Letby from duty. A warning that was likewise ignored.
Letby was on shift for every suspicious death or health collapse. They stopped when she was finally transferred … incredibly, to the “patient safety” office. Even this wasn’t enough to initiate further action. Administrators had a potential serial killer on their hands, but they demanded the whistleblower- medics apologise to her.
Faced with the evidence and the lives at stake, why would so many administrators believe this nurse and not the distraught medics? Surely only because their sole, cynical concern was their hospital’s reputation — and the inevitable scandal if they called the police.
As for Letby’s own motivation, profound psychological, emotional and social factors are likely to have contributed to her actions. Professionals in psychology and criminology, seeking to understand the underlying causes of such behaviour, claim that a combination of individual vulnerabilities and external circumstances can converge to produce tragic outcomes.
One possible explanation is rooted in mental health challenges that Letby possibly faced. The pressures of working in a high-stress environment like a hospital’s neonatal unit might exacerbate these challenges, potentially affecting decision-making and emotional stability.
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is a psychological disorder, for instance, in which a caregiver intentionally harms a dependent individual under their care, often in a bid to seek sympathy or attention – as has been suggested in this case. Though it’s essential to emphasise that such a diagnosis can only be made by qualified professionals, this syndrome raises questions about possible motivations. However, it’s important to remember that this is just one of many potential explanations – we may never know the real reason.
But surely the worst thing about this whole story is people’s reaction to it. A generation ago people would react with shock, disbelief and even outrage that someone was accusing our wonderful NHS of providing anything other than first-class care.
Nowadays, people wearily shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, what can you expect, it’s the NHS.” Some will make excuses – Letby’s just plain evil, hospitals are understaffed, under-resourced. Others will react with anger – but NO ONE is surprised…
Nora Johnson’s 12 critically acclaimed psychological suspense crime thrillers (www.nora-johnson.net) all available online including eBooks (€0.99;£0.99), Apple Books, audiobooks, paperbacks at Amazon etc. Profits to Cudeca cancer charity.
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