NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
There should be more than a few red faces and jangling nerves around this morning at West Dunbartonshire Council and beyond in the wake of the in-depth journalistic follow-ups to nurse Lucy Letby being found guilty of multiple counts of the murder of newborn babies.
These valuable documentaries and investigative newspaper features revealed that had it not been for the intransigence, arrogance and hubris of officials at the Duchess of Chester Hospital then the lives of many of the innocent babies who died could have been saved.
So, why then should West Dunbartonshire Council be taking a long hard look at themselves in the mirror following the reports of this case?
For a start the Lucy Letby case lays much of the blame for this appalling event to have happened at the feet of officialdom, medically unqualified men and women in suits who consider they know better than the experts and who look down on whistleblowers and journalists who ask them awkward questions to hold them to account. They hate being found out.
It sounds very similar to what we have to put up with in Dumbarton. It’s time that officials showed some respect.
I set up The Democrat as a digital news platform five years ago this month after one of the local newspapers refused to print an article I had written disclosing the fact that a GP’s practice at Dumbarton Health Centre had been unjustly closed.
The editor blamed their lawyers for this, but I considered it lacked the courage I have come to expect from journalists after nearly 60 years in newspapers. I walked away.
The completely unjust sacking of this doctor, which was later rightly overturned by a judge at an employment tribunal, had been made by the then recently formed Health and Social Care Committee of West Dunbartonshire Council.
I made legitimate inquiries as to why this had happened but was met by a wall of silence, a “nothing to see here, now move on” response, which was similar to what the consultants and other whistle blowers in the Lucy Letby case had received from their Hospital Trust.
More inquiries revealed that many of the staff at Dumbarton Health Centre were shocked by what had happened to the doctor who was deemed unfit to carry on with his practice but yet remarkably allowed to continue to see patients up to a few months later because that was convenient for the officials who had to recruit a replacement.
The committee then arranged for the transfer of all the doctor’s patients to another practice in the Health Centre. The GP at the head of that practice is now a member of the committee which took over that panel. The committee ruined my doctor’s life at that point and took away his livelihood.
It wasn’t just the staff who were upset though. The doctor’s patients, myself included, were shocked by what happened and praised him generously.
They raised a petition against his sacking, which local Conservative ex-councillor Euan Gear, left, and I handed over the Clerk to the Health and Social Care Committee with a request to them to reconsider their decision.
This was a hugely valuable, highly qualified practitioner they were sacking at a time when there was a significant shortage of GPs in Scotland.
We were dismayed to find out later that the petition was never placed before that committee. They did not even look at it. They did absolutely nothing to show that they cared a jot for public opinion. They knew best. Their arrogance shone through them.
The GP, who was forced to take locum jobs and night shifts in the interim, took his appeal to an appointment tribunal where the Health Board spent a considerable sum of public money on an expensive advocate from Edinburgh to represent them.
Judge Lucy Weismann decided against the Council and found that the GP was unfairly treated and wrongly dismissed from his practice at Dumbarton Health Centre.
Had it not been for the doctor’s determination and courage in pursuing this matter then the HSCC, the Council and the Health Board would have gotten away with ruining this doctor and depriving his patients of a caring, competent much loved and much needed doctor.
That kind of thoughtlessness – I won’t put it stronger than that – has consequences.
There have been other cases, including one of bullying a disabled person, in which Council officials have been found to have ganged up against him and effectively stitched him up because they found him unpleasant to work beside, which is not sufficient reason in law to dismiss someone from their employment. I supported that man’s case.
This arrogant, uncaring, incompetent council have decided they have had enough of me and have banned me from asking them questions.
They threw me out of a meeting which they alleged I had interrupted, which was not true. I simply asked at the interval if they could turn the volume up on the sound system so that the press and public could hear what was being said.
Initially it was the SNP who banned me and accused me of bias because I once worked for a Labour First Minister as a special adviser, but now Labour have outrageously taken up where the SNP left off. Snowflakes doesn’t cut it.
It’s time the Council, the Health Board and other public bodies stepped back from this. It has gone on far too long and needs to end now.
A five year ban, which has never formally been approved by the council or by any committee is over the top, even for the incompetent hang ’em, birch ’em and boil ’em in oil crew in Church Street.