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Nursing boss says claims she ignored warnings about Lucy Letby ‘simply not true’ and is ‘seeking legal advice’
22 August 2023, 06:23
A former nursing chief accused of ignoring warnings about Lucy Letby has denied the claims made against her.
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Karen Rees, the former head of nursing for urgent care at the Countess of Chester hospital, has said that claims she ignored warnings about Lucy Letby are “simply not true”.
The nursing boss held her role in urgent care before retiring in March 2018.
She was responsible for overseeing the neonatal unit where Lucy Letby killed seven babies and attempted to kill another six between June 2015 and June 2016.
Senior paediatrician Dr Stephen Brearey claimed in court that he had informed Ms Rees of his and his colleagues’ concerns following the death of two babies in close succession in June 2016.
The babies were two newborn triplets, referred to as Babies O and P during the trial.
Recounting a phone call he made to Ms Rees, Dr Brearey claimed he told her that he and his colleagues “wouldn’t be happy” if Letby continued to work on their unit.
“I phoned Karen Rees, the duty executive in urgent care, who was familiar with the concerns already,” he told the court.
“I explained what had happened and said I didn’t want nurse Letby to come back to work the following day or until this was investigated properly. Karen said no to that, and [that] there was no evidence.
“The crux of the conversation was that I then put to her, ‘Was she happy to take responsibility for this decision in view of the fact that myself and consultant colleagues would not be happy with nurse Letby going to work the following day?’
“She responded, ‘Yes, she would be happy’. I said, ‘Would you be happy if something happened to any of the babies the following day?’ She said, ‘Yes’.”
But Ms Rees has now denied the claims made against her, arguing she wasn’t given enough information to justify removing Letby from the unit and that she is taking “legal advice”.
The former nursing boss said she had been made aware that there were concerns about Letby during a general review meeting with Karen Townsend, the director of urgent care at the hospital, and Ravi Jayaram, a consultant who was the clinical lead for neonates and paediatrics, at the time.
She also said she was told of Dr Brearey’s calls for Letby to be removed from the unit.
In a statement to Sky News, Ms Rees explained: “I immediately went to find Ravi Jayaram and Stephen Brearey in order to obtain more information about the allegations that had been made. I went straightaway as it was a Friday afternoon, and I was conscious that staff would be going home for the weekend. I wanted to find out what the concerns were.”
She said she went to the office shared by Dr Ravi Jayaram and Dr Brearey, but the latter wasn’t there.
“Ravi wouldn't give me any information to explain why Lucy Letby should be removed from the unit. He said nothing about air embolus, or over-feeding. He did not even mention babies dying and Lucy Letby being present. He just asked for Lucy Letby to be removed from the NNU (neo-natal unit).”
After this, she wanted to “urgently” speak with Dr Brearey and when she finally got hold of him, she explained that she needed more information before she could justify a nurse’s removal from a unit.
She continued: “Stephen Brearey was measured throughout... I said that if there were issues, then I needed to know what they were.
"Despite that, he refused to give me any more information. He said that he had evidence, but he refused to show it to me.
“At no point did he say that he suspected she had been purposely harming babies. If he had said that there had been 16 deaths, and that she was present for all of them, then my actions may well have differed.
"If Stephen Brearey had given me whatever evidence he said he had, that may have meant that a further death could potentially have been prevented.”
As for the claim made by Dr Brearey in court that Ms Rees said she was “happy” with her decision not to remove Letby at the time, the former nursing boss said the claim was “completely untrue” and an “outrageous allegation to make”.
Ms Rees said she is “currently taking legal advice about the untrue allegations”.
Letby, Britain's worst baby killer of modern times, will die in prison after being given a whole life sentence for her crimes on Monday.
Letby's murder and attempted murder spree came between June 2015 and 2016, at the Countess of Chester Hospital. Questions have been raised over how she got away with her crimes for so long, despite senior doctors voicing concerns.
The woman in charge of nursing at the hospital, Alison Kelly, has been suspended from her current position.
Sentencing Letby to spend the rest of her life in prison on Monday, Mr Justice Goss said her motive for killing the children will never be known.