Any parent hearing of Lucy Letby’s killing spree while a nurse must have felt their blood run cold.
Seven babies were killed with six more harmed before the nurse was moved from her job at the Countess of Chester hospital.
But what must also needs to worry public sector communicators is that fear of ‘reputational damage’ wsas attributed as a cause in a failure to act sooner.
Now, for the avoidance of doubt there is no suggestion whatsoever the hospital’s communications team were involved in this decision making process. Instead, the phrase was highlighted as a broad management concern.
This bothers me for two reasons. First, as a former resident of Stafford, my old local hospital Mid Staffs Hospital became a by-word in avoiding dealing with criticism.
Secondly, this reminded me of the words of Dr Bill Kirkup whose report into deaths at East Kent maternity hospital singled out fear of reputational damage as a negative factor.
I’ve blogged before on his warning to the public sector to rethink reputation management.
To once again quote his report:
Unfortunately, these problems are far from restricted to East Kent. Indeed, reputation management could be said to be the default response of any organisation that is challenged publicly. When the end result is that patient safety is being damaged, unrecognised and uncorrected, however, it is especially problematic. At present, the benefits of inappropriate and aggressive reputation management outweigh the meagre risks to an organisation of behaving in this way. This balance must be addressed.
The problems of organisational behaviour that place reputation management above honesty and openness are both pervasive and extremely damaging to public confidence in health services. A legal duty of truthfulness placed on public bodies has been proposed as one of the responses to the Hillsborough disaster. It seems that NHS regulation alone is unable to curtail the denial, deflection and concealment that all too often become subsequently clear, and more stringent measures are overdue.Dr Bill Kirkup, Reading the signals: Maternity and neonatal services in East Kent – the Report of the Independent Investigation
It’s sobering to see Dr Kirkup once again interviewed in connection with the Letby case where he repeated his warnings.
This is a concern for every communicator who works in the NHS and across the public sector.
It also makes me think of what steps can be taken to protect communicators who try and speak truth to power on this.