A UK neonatal nurse has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering patients

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published August 28, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • A neonatal nurse in the UK was found guilty of murdering and attempting to murder babies in her unit.

  • Hospitals should take prevention steps like creating robust training, hiring, and auditing protocols to reduce the risks of gruesome criminal activity.

A neonatal nurse in the United Kingdom was found guilty of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others between June 2015 and  June 2016. The nurse, Lucy Letby, used methods including injecting air into the bloodstream, administering air or milk into the stomach, interfering with breathing tubes, and adding insulin to intravenous feeds, the Associated Press (AP) reported.[]

Despite Letby pleading innocent, police discovered a confessional note left on a green sticky note at her home. The note contained phrases like, “I don’t deserve to live,” “I killed them on purpose because I’m not good enough to care for them,” I am a horrible evil person,” and “I AM EVIL I DID THIS,” according to the AP.[]

Letby was sentenced to life in prison last Monday.[]

What US hospitals can do to reduce criminal risks

This case transpired under UK law. In the UK and the US, cases demonstrate the need for hospitals to take both legal and ethical steps to reach out to families and protect future patients, says attorney Min Hwan Ahn.

“Hospitals can respond by conducting thorough internal investigations, cooperating fully with law enforcement, and taking steps to prevent future incidents,” Hwan Ahn says. “This might include reviewing and updating their hiring practices, training programs, and patient safety protocols.”

He adds that while not legally required, hospitals should “consider providing counseling and other support services to affected families.”

Hospitals may not be innocent, either

When criminal cases occur in hospital settings, they demonstrate a problem with a nurse or healthcare worker and the system itself.

Regarding criminal or civil cases, Hwan Ahn says that hospitals and individual perpetrators can “potentially bear responsibility.”

In the US, hospitals could run into trouble under the legal principles of "vicarious liability" or "corporate negligence,” he says.

Put simply, this means that the hospital could “be held liable if it can be shown that they were negligent in hiring, supervising, or retaining the nurse—or if they failed to provide a safe environment for patients,” he says.

In the UK case, it is unclear if the hospital will be held liable. According to some reports, other doctors of the neonatal unit said that he had complained about Letby to the hospital earlier in 2016 but that appropriate steps—like calling the police—were not taken.[][]

What patients can do

Parents or patients can bring lawsuits against nurses who have committed malpractice, says Hwan Ahn. Examples of this include civil lawsuits for malpractice or wrongful death.

“This would be separate from any criminal charges the nurse might face,” Hwan Ahn explains. “The purpose of a civil lawsuit is to seek compensation for damages such as medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and other related costs.”

The importance of prevention work

Ideally, these situations should never happen—in the UK or the US. To prevent such gruesome acts and to ensure safety and legal compliance, Hwan Ahn says that hospital systems should have “robust protocols” across multiple departments.

These can include:

  • Hiring

  • Training staff

  • Supervising staff

  • Reporting concerns and incidents

  • Investigating reports

  • Auditing 

  • Conducting reviews

  • Intervening early (particularly if issues are identified via audits or reviews)

“Additionally, fostering a culture of transparency and accountability can encourage staff to speak up about any concerns,” Hwan Ahn says.

What this means for you

A neonatal nurse in the UK was found guilty of murdering and attempting to murder babies in her unit. In the US and UK, it is imperative that hospitals take preventive steps such as creating robust training, hiring, and auditing protocols for reducing the risks of gruesome criminal activity—and intervening when someone reports dangerous activity.

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