Husband of woman who died weeks after bowel operation was ‘knocked sideways’ by anonymous letter warning of medical blunders

Susan Warby's husband Jon Warby outside Suffolk Coroners' Court in Ipswich Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA W

Susan Warby's husband Jon Warby outside Suffolk Coroners' Court in Ipswich Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A ex-police officer whose wife died five weeks after bowel surgery at West Suffolk Hospital said he was “knocked sideways” when he received an anonymous letter in the post highlighting errors in her treatment.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, where Susan Warby, 57, died on August 30 2018Picture: JOE

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, where Susan Warby, 57, died on August 30 2018Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Susan Warby died at the hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, after a series of complications in her treatment.

An inquest into her death began on Thursday, January 16, but was adjourned on today, Friday January 17, so an independent expert witness could look over the mother-of-two's medical records.

The 57-year-old had been admitted to hospital after collapsing at her home on July 26, 2018, after complaining of abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea for two weeks.

She died on August 30 2018.

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Speaking after the adjournment on Friday, her husband Jon Warby said he had received the anonymous letter in October 2018.

He said it had arrived at the family home in Bury St Edmunds by first class post, adding: "It knocked me sideways completely."

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Doctors at the hospital were reportedly asked for fingerprints as part of the hospital's investigation into the letter, though this was not discussed at the inquest.

Speaking before the inquest, a spokesman from trade union Unison said probe was a "witch hunt" designed to identify the whistleblower who sent the letter.

Mr Warby said of the hospital's reported actions: "I'm quite surprised the lengths they went to but it's part of a criminal investigation as well so I can understand that to a degree."

The inquest, at Suffolk Coroner's Court in Ipswich, heard both Suffolk Police and the hospital launched investigations into the letter at the request of the coroner, confirming issues around an arterial line fitted to Mrs Warby during surgery.

The hospital said an investigation looking into Mrs Warby's care was already under way at this point.

Suffolk's senior coroner Nigel Parsley said on Friday that Mrs Warby's family acknowledged that her death was the "progression of a naturally occurring disease" but wanted to know if "errors may have had a contributory effect".

Mr Parsley said the family had asked for an expert witness to be appointed to review Mrs Warby's medical records and prepare a report.

He said that an expert could provide an opinion on "what, if any" effect the errors in Mrs Warby's treatment had on her health.

After considering submissions from lawyers, Mr Parsley said: "I've decided this is not an unreasonable request.

"An expert witness will be appointed to conduct a review of the medical records and I will request that the witness does this as expediently as possible."

He adjourned the inquest to a later date but said it would take two or three months for the report to be prepared.

In a statement read to the inquest, Mr Warby said he was told at the hospital that his wife was incorrectly given glucose instead of saline through an arterial line.

"I asked what the effect of this could be and the consultant told me brain damage or death," he said, adding that he was later told there was "no new irreversible brain damage".

Mrs Warby's medical cause of death was recorded as multi-organ failure, with contributory causes including septicaemia, pneumonia and perforated diverticular disease, affecting the bowel.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Mr Warby said: "This has been a highly distressing time for all of our family, and we have been left devastated by Sue's death.

"Transparency is important in maintaining confidence in the NHS and upholding patient safety, and hospital staff should feel able to speak out on any issues they identify in the workplace.

"I was notified of errors in Sue's care quickly after they occurred, under the hospital's duty of candour obligations.

"When Sue died, however, we were left wanting answers.

"I wanted to know how and why these incidents had happened, and wanted to know what action would be taken to prevent any similar incidents from ever happening again."

He said it had been "incredibly difficult to relive everything" at the inquest, adding that it "brought to light important information" about how the errors occurred.

"Sadly, questions still remain about whether Sue could have survived if these errors had not been made, and I will continue to seek answers in relation to this," he said.

"The one positive to come out of all of this is the changes that have been put in place to protect future patients and prevent future incidents.

"Nobody should have to go through what we have all been through."

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