When Shaun’s tweets were mysteriously pulled from Twitter, Twitter exploded with questions into the Wolverhampton Star’s offices. A Star health reporter one moment, pulled from Twitter and the health desk the next moment. A popular Welsh anaesthetist on Twitter, @WelshGasDoc, tweeted, ‘What a perverse irony that the only journalist reporting on a story about people unwilling to speak out has now been gagged’.
Shaun Lintern had reported stories about Mid Staffs with loyalty throughout 2008 and 2009, covering cases of escalating poor care every week. He worked with Cure the NHS and the trust. In 2011, he had sat through 139 days of the recent Independent Public Inquiry, and became the gold standard resource on the Inquiry. His tweets were relied on by the health community to save them the tedium of reading the millions of pages of evidence. None of the national newspapers diverted any resources to covering the Inquiry. So not a man to lose?
MedicalHarm has investigated Shaun Lintern’s disappearance. Some clues were provided in our saved copies of Shaun’s deleted twitter feed. His final tweet read, on 9 December 2011, “After 7 days off to recover from #midstaffsinquiry its back to work 2day to expose poor care & bad management wherever it may hide.“ Then the line went dead. Shaun no longer existed.
In the latter half of 2011, Shaun had been working on a series of stories about poor care at the Royal Wolverhampton NHSFT (who run New Cross hospital). MedicalHarm contacted the hospital. The communications department confirmed that they had made a complaint about Shaun on behalf of the then CEO, step forward …David Loughton. Mr Loughton was featured in our Private Eye special for telling the union rep of well-known consultant whistleblower, Dr Raj Mattu, that he didn’t want to give Raj just a parking ticket, he wanted him off the road (see Shoot the Messenger).
The Royal Wolverhampton and Mr Loughton made a complaint about “inaccurate” reporting, and though the paper has crumpled and apologised, none of Shaun’s pieces have been taken down. The complaint targetted the accuracy of Shaun’s pieces, but was also based apparently on “personal tweets”. So what were they?
As a mark of Shaun’s success, he had become the go-to reporter for leaked documents about the Royal Wolverhampton and New Cross hospital. On 29 September 2011, Shaun had tweeted, “The best stories come in unmarked brown envelopes! #ilovejournalism“. On 1 October 2011, Shaun tweeted, “Sun is shining, I have a fresh cup of tea, the cat is asleep and I’ve got a leaked document to read through! #ilovejournalismevenonasaturday“. At the same time, Shaun was writing a series of stories about New Cross hospital. So what were the stories that this ambitious and talented sleuth was working on?
Again, Twitter provides the clue. In July 2011, the story began when the local council and the PCT began to investigate the inappropriate discharge of some patients to nursing homes from the Royal Wolverhampton trust. This could have been done by the hospital to affect or improve the hospital’s mortality figures. Later in July 2011, the CQC conducted a visit to the hospital, with the inspectors finding poor care including, “a patient forced to go to the toilet in their bed twice over a weekend due to waiting too long for nurses,” “another patient waited 40 minutes for a nurse after pressing their call buzzer,” “another patient was told to “shut up” while another said vulnerable patients without a relative to look after them “must suffer.””
Shaun Lintern duly reported this. In July 2011 the head of nursing at the trust was quoted as saying, she could “not defend the behaviour” and the examples were “sadly disappointing”. In another piece, Shaun Lintern revealed that the CQC inspection had in fact been prompted by high death rates in elderly patients with lung disease and in patients dying from septicaemia. The hospital had responded by saying it was a “coding problem”, and a review of 40 case notes found no problem. But the CQC report also revealed the hospital had high mortality across all departments for three years.
In August Andrew Lansley visited the hospital, and was apparently reassured by the CEO David Loughton. Shaun Lintern did not drop the story. The trust, Shaun claims on Twitter, refused to give any further quotes to the Express & Star. Meanwhile the PCT issued a formal notice of concern that patients suffering stroke were not being transferred to a proper stroke ward, with only 66% of patients transferred. By December, David Loughton filed his complaint with the newspaper, and Shaun has not been heard of since.
The Royal Wolverhampton trust told MedicalHarm that Shaun’s reporting had been “inaccurate and inflammatory” and had included “personal stuff”. Having searched Shaun’s twitter feed, MedicalHarm could not find any evidence of any personal information about David Loughton. The trust has also not responded for comment, and the Chairman refused to comment on whether it was an appropriate use of NHS taxpayer money making complaints against journalists.
One of Shaun’s supporters on Twitter, @biggusdiggus, rang the newsdesk who refused to tell him what had happened Shaun. He was also told that the news editor “didn’t like his tone”. With an excellent health reporter out of the way, meeting minutes show the news editor attending Mid Staffs NHSFT and having a “very positive” meeting with the communications team and agreeing a “series of features on the work” of the staff (according to Mid Staffs minutes). Trebles all round.
The Express & Star is owned by the Claverley Group. The accounts give further clues. The latest accounts to 1 January 2011 show a whopping annual loss of £3,536,000 for the newspaper group, with no dividend being paid. Meanwhile, accounts within the group show that advertising sales from jobs adverts were falling. MedicalHarm asked the Royal Wolverhampton if they had pulled adverts from the newspaper, and it was denied that the trust had “much of an advertising budget”.
We are now announcing a campaign to save ShaunLintern’s tweets as a valuable public resource on the Stafford Inquiry, for those who don’t have a spare 139 days to read the transcripts. A Facebook group has also been set up. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, with your request for a Library of Tweets.
Meanwhile, David Loughton has left New Cross hospital, and in 2011 was awarded the CBE for services to the NHS.