Lancashire Police probe continues at Blackpool Victoria Hospital

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2023 saw three staff members jailed for separate crimes committed at Blackpool Victoria Hospital - while police continue to investigate an unsolved murder on its wards and eight further deaths on the stroke unit.

Concerns have been raised about a 'culture of abuse' on the wards of Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

2023 saw two 'wicked' nurses - Catherine Hudson, 54 and Charlotte Wilmot, 48 - jailed for 10 years for illegally sedating patients ‘within an inch of their lives’ so they could enjoy an “easy life” on their shifts.

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The last 12 months also saw 'predatory' healthworker Hernando Puno, 52, jailed for sexually assaulting colleagues and patients over an eight-year period of employment at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

Puno, of Blackpool, who pleaded not guilty, was jailed for nine months.

One of his victims made a formal complaint to the hospital about him in 2014 but felt she "did not appear to be taken seriously", the court heard at his trial earlier this year.

Puno was merely warned in writing by his employers to "improve his conduct in the workplace", the jury was told.

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Hernando Puno was convicted of eight counts of sexual assault at Blackpool Victoria HospitalHernando Puno was convicted of eight counts of sexual assault at Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Hernando Puno was convicted of eight counts of sexual assault at Blackpool Victoria Hospital | Lancashire Police

£20k reward to help catch hospital killer

In addition to these crimes, an unsolved murder investigation is ongoing into the death of pensioner Valerie Kneale, 75, who died on the Vic's stroke unit in November 2018.

A post-mortem examination found that Ms Kneale had died following a haemorrhage caused by a “non-medical related internal injury”, leading police to open a murder investigation into her death.

Mrs Kneale, 75, from Blackpool, was murdered on the stroke unit at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on November 16, 2018.A post-mortem examination found she had sadly died from a haemorrhage caused by a non-medical related internal injury. Following this a murder investigation was launched.Mrs Kneale, 75, from Blackpool, was murdered on the stroke unit at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on November 16, 2018.A post-mortem examination found she had sadly died from a haemorrhage caused by a non-medical related internal injury. Following this a murder investigation was launched.
Mrs Kneale, 75, from Blackpool, was murdered on the stroke unit at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on November 16, 2018.A post-mortem examination found she had sadly died from a haemorrhage caused by a non-medical related internal injury. Following this a murder investigation was launched. | Lancashire Police

During the investigation, former careworker and jailed sexual predator Hernando Puno was quizzed by detectives about Ms Kneale's death. But Lancashire Police found no evidence connecting Puno to her death and the force took no further action.

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Despite a lengthy investigation, including interviewing other hospital staff, medical reviews and forensic testing, detectives have yet to identify her killer.

Lancashire Police have offered a £20,000 reward to anyone who can help solve the case and catch her killer. You can read all about the hunt for Valerie Kneale's killer here.

Nine patient deaths still under investigation

In addition to the murder investigation, the Gazette can also confirm that the Blackpool coroner is probing eight further deaths on the Vic's stroke unit.

The ward was described as 'corrupt' by prosecutors during the trial of Catherine Hudson and Charlotte Wilmot in December, where it was claimed that '95 per cent of the staff' would take drugs from the unit, sometimes on a recreational basis.

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Neither Hudson nor Wilmot - nor any other staff on the 49-bed stroke unit - are accused of causing any deaths or deterioration of patients.

Lancashire Police

Murder, sexual assault, neglect and abuse

Blackpool Victoria Hospital issued a statement following the sentencing of disgraced nurses Hudson and Wilmot, with the Trust saying it was 'shocked' and 'deeply upset' about the abuse of patients on its stroke unit.

Their crimes went unreported and unchallenged for a number of years despite WhatsApp messages revealing that other staff members were well aware of the neglect and abuse of patients by Hudson and Wilmot.

When asked about claims of 'a culture of abuse' at the hospital, the Vic said it was unable to comment due to an ongoing police investigation into the deaths of a further eight patients on the same stroke unit.

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But in a statement after the sentencing of Hudson and Wilmot, Blackpool Vic boss Trish Armstrong-Child sought to assure patients, their families and the public that the two nurses were 'bad apples' and not representative of the thousands of 'caring' and 'compassionate' staff employed by the hospital trust.

She said: “This case has been shocking and deeply upsetting for everyone at the Trust and the sentencing today (December 14) brings a conclusion to proceedings for colleagues, patients and families who have been through so much as part of the investigation.

“I am sorry that people suffered from the actions of Hudson and Wilmot and I want to provide assurance that the Trust employs thousands of colleagues who are caring and compassionate in their work, each and every day.

“The bravery of a student nurse brought Hudson and Wilmot’s behaviour to the attention of the Trust and we very quickly shared those concerns with Lancashire Constabulary.

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"This demonstrates our ongoing commitment to encouraging colleagues to speak up about anything they are not comfortable with or concerned about.”

Vic boss on 'culture of abuse' on stroke unit

The Vic boss added: “It is very clear from the evidence heard by the jury that inappropriate and unacceptable conduct and practices were taking place at the time and I want to say sorry to patients, families and other colleagues who were impacted by that.

“It’s important now to reassure local people that Blackpool Teaching Hospitals has made significant improvements across a range of issues including staffing, managing medicine and creating a more respectful culture.

“Part of these changes have been to actively encourage anyone who comes into contact with the Trust in any way to speak up if they see or hear anything that causes concern or they are not comfortable with in any way.

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"That’s critical to identifying issues quickly and putting improvements in place to ensure people feel safe in our care.

“Lastly, it’s important to recognise that the Trust employs a team of more than 8,000 people who work so very hard to provide safe and respectful care every day and night.

Regulators have repeatedly highlighted ‘caring’ as a strength, this is a key area for all inspections to consider. I want to say thank you to all colleagues who are doing everything in their power to support patients and their families.”