Woman received 'whistle blower' letters about poor medical treatment

Marilyn Smith should have received a Tetanus booster jab after injuring her leg. 

Marilyn Smith should have received a Tetanus booster jab after injuring her leg. - Credit: SMITH FAMILY

A Huntingdon woman has told how she received anonymous letters about her alleged poor medical treatment from whistle blowers claiming to be concerned staff at Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

Marilyn Smith, aged 74, became seriously ill after she contracted Tetanus through a wound in her leg after she fell in the garden and cut her shin on a plant pot.

She ended up spending weeks in hospital, including time in critical care, after it is claimed that staff failed to realise she should have been offered a Tetanus booster, and her leg became infected.

Marilyn attended the A&E Department at Hinchingbrooke on September 8, 2021 and was later discharged without being offered the Tetanus jab. NHS vaccination guidelines state that anybody born before 1961 should be offered a Tetanus booster.

Tetanus is rare in England because effective vaccine forms part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme, but older people can slip through the net.

In the following days, Mrs Smith began to experience difficulty speaking and said it was painful to even brush her teeth. She then received letters, purportedly written by members of staff at Hinchingbrooke telling her she had "suffered life-threatening injuries" and "life-changing damage".

Mrs Smith then suffered a spasm of the jaw and lockjaw, which is a strong indicator of Tetanus. She returned to Hinchingbrooke nine days after her initial visit but was transferred to Peterborough City Hospital's Emergency Department where she was placed on a respiratory ward.

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Two days later her condition deteriorated and she was admitted for surgery and ended up spending several weeks in hospital.

Speaking on behalf of Mrs Smith’s family, Tees Law solicitor, Tim Deeming, said: "Between Mrs Smith being admitted shortly after the injury and her eventual surgery two weeks later, medical staff across the NWAFT potentially missed numerous opportunities to discover her tetanus immunisation status.

"Knowing this sooner would have allowed medical staff to take appropriate action straight away."

Mr Deeming said the claims made in the letters sent to Mrs Smith by “a group of staff at Hinchingbrooke Hospital” raised concerns surrounding her care which was said to be far below the standard expected”.

The letters also highlighted there had been “serious concerns” raised in the past.

Mr Deeming continued: " According to the letters, Mrs Smith missed out on the thorough cleaning of the wound with disinfectant and a tetanus injection, which she should have received."

Speaking on behalf of Mrs Smith’s family, Mr Deeming, said: “While  NWAFT’s internal report has acknowledged potential failings in Mrs Smith’s care, it is hard to believe that something as obvious and fundamental as Tetanus was missed.

"We want to ensure that wider lessons are learnt across all clinical settings to improve patient safety in such situations.

 “If the anonymous letters were written by staff at the hospital and the issues are credible, they are deeply concerning, especially given that they highlight concerns having been raised over the past five years.

"Reassurance is urgently needed from the Trust`s leadership about these potential allegations and any investigations undertaken.” 

In a statement issued to The Hunts Post, Caroline Walker, the chief executive of North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Peterborough City and Hinchingbrooke hospitals, has apologised to Mrs Smith and said staff are encouraged to speak out if they have concerns.

“I would like to apologise to Marilyn Smith for the failure to identify her condition as quickly as we should have.

“Due to the rarity and severity of Mrs Smith’s condition, a clinical investigation took place to review the level of care she experienced.

"We are meeting with Mrs Smith this week to discuss the report she has received and the learning that comes from it. We welcome the fact that our staff feel able to raise concerns.

"We have worked hard, with the support of our Freedom To Speak Up Guardian, to encourage an environment where speaking up is something people can do with confidence.

"When issues are raised we take action to investigate and learn from them. “We are currently reviewing the details of this letter carefully to understand the nature of the allegations being made.” 

See more from Tees Law: www.teeslaw.com/home-life/medical-negligence