The British health watchdog that was too lazy to bark
About what you expect of an official “regulator”
The care watchdog is more worried about its own reputation than the safety of vulnerable patients, according to a powerful group of MPs. They accuse the Care Quality Commission of trying to silence its own staff to prevent them from divulging crucial information about its shortcomings.
The watchdog has persistently ‘let patients down’ by failing to inspect hospitals and nursing homes to ensure they are safe, the MPs warn in a report.
The commission has been under pressure since last May, when it emerged it had ignored the abuse of adults with learning difficulties at the Winterbourne View care home near Bristol.
Last month the commission’s chief executive Cynthia Bower agreed to step down in the face of growing criticism by the Government and MPs of the way in which her organisation was run. But Miss Bower will stay on in her £195,000-a-year post until the autumn, when she will be handed a £1.35million pension pot – one of the most generous in the public sector.
This latest report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee warns of ‘serious concerns’ about the CQC’s ‘governance, culture and leadership’. Margaret Hodge MP, chairman of the PAC, said: ‘This is a story of failure that goes right to the top of the organisation. The former chief executive has moved on but it is too soon to tell what difference that has made.’
She added: ‘The CQC completed less than half its target number of inspections. ‘That is a serious failure that lets down patients and users of care services who rely on the CQC to protect them from poor or unsafe care.
‘It is unacceptable that staff leaving the organisation have been made to sign gagging clauses to prevent them speaking out, when their information could have been used to hold the commission to account and force it to improve.’
The report refers to one member of the CQC board, Kay Sheldon, who had been ‘ostracised and vilified’ by the organisation since warning of a ‘bullying culture’.
Mrs Sheldon, a psychiatrist, spoke out last November during the public inquiry into the scandal at Mid Staffordshire hospitals, where as many as 1,000 patients died because of poor care.
Tory MP Richard Bacon, who also sits on the Public Accounts Committee, said: ‘The commission was poorly led from the start and appeared to be more concerned with protecting its reputation than listening to warnings from healthcare staff, its own employees and even a member of its Board.’
The report also expressed concerns at the CQC’s ability to properly monitor GP practices.
‘Studying’ in Britain – one big immigration scam
Incredible news – a London college ranked as “highly trusted” by the UK Border Agency has been accused of helping foreign students cheat the immigration system.
According to Sky News: “The investigation discovered that diploma certificates and dissertations were for sale inside the London College of Business in Barking. It is also revealed that some 159,000 people are thought to be in Britain despite their student visas having expired, and that just 2,700 students have been removed since 2009.
Whatever the allegations involving this particular college, it has been well known for some time that the foreign student system is a scam.
Look at the figures: the number of students arriving in Britain increased sharply during the Labour years, with the International Passenger Survey, which records the main reason for migration, showing that the number arriving for study increased from 87,000 in 2001 to 175,000 in 2006-2007 and up to 209,000 the following year. This leapt to 273,000 in 2008-9 and, once one includes students student visitors and dependants, the figure for 2009 is 489,000, up 100,000 on the previous year.
Why the leap? Because the Government that year introduced PBS Tier 4, which was either designed with total incompetence or was yet another one of New Labour’s bright ideas for shifting immigration away from areas where it would be unpopular and scrutinised, to areas where it was still imagined to be beneficial.
The new rules required that anyone studying for more than six months possess 40 points: 30 points are awarded for possessing a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) issued by the sponsoring college and ten points are given for maintenance.
Finding a college is not difficult since Britain is dotted with “business schools” which offer courses of dubious worth and whose main source of income is immigration.
So as long as a school, however crumby, will accept you, and you can prove you have £800 per month for six months, you can come and study here. You can work, in theory for only 20 hours a week, but in reality who can know? After two years you can work full-time, legally, assuming you can get a job that pays £20,000 a year. You can also bring in dependants, who can also work without restrictions (if you studied at degree level, however awful the university).
In the first year of operating Tier 4, the number of student visas rose by a third, and over two-thirds of these came from the Middle East or South Asia, those regions which are considered the biggest risk for overstaying.
The system is a scam; it is, in effect, a legal way for someone to pay their way into Britain. Legalised people trafficking.
And the working restrictions are unenforceable. Britain is a free country and the state can’t, and shouldn’t, spy on its residents; the whole benefit of having a strong, properly enforced border is that you don’t need to. And yet it is isn’t – only one-third of colleges have been checked by immigration officials before they were allowed to accredit students.
Education has become an unofficial way to buy entry into Britain because it is less unpopular with the public than other routes, such as asylum. There is still a popular misconception that the people coming are studying maths at Cambridge, when in fact it is widely abused. The higher education establishment has been complicit in this scam, vocally opposing any restrictions because some of the weaker universities now depend on fee-paying immigrants.
Anyone wishing to study in the United States, Canada and Australia must first have a face-to-face interview by an immigration official, yet this does not deter the supply of physics students to Harvard. Why can’t Britain do the same?”
The ‘experts’ who break up families: The terrifying story of the prospective MP branded an unfit mother by experts who’d never met her – a nightmare shared by many other British families
Dark deeds thrive amid official secrecy
A little over a year ago, Lucy Allan led what most people would regard as an eminently respectable life. The middle-class mother, a Tory councillor, was happily married to her stockbroker husband, Robin, and doted on their ten-year-old son, who loved going to school and was a passionate cricketer.
Indeed, such was Mrs Allan’s standing in the community that this accountant and former investment banker was on David Cameron’s A-list of potential MPs and a prospective Conservative candidate at the last election. She devoted her spare time to her council duties. Twice a month, she sat on the local fostering panel, which oversaw the removal of children from their parents and placed them with new families.
It was heart-rending work, as she recalls. ‘At each fostering meeting we were presented with horrifying cases of abusive parents, almost always depicted as “substance abusers”, mentally unstable or “unable to put the needs of their children over their own needs”. ‘Often, this portrayal was supported by an expert report from a psychiatrist, psychologist or medical doctor,’ says Lucy.
‘It never occured to me, or any member of the panel, that the information we were presented with might be a distorted, twisted fiction — or that the reports were anything other than independent.’
Now, her view has changed. She suspects that many of the damning reports were written by experts who had never met the families in question, to suit the wishes of social workers under pressure from the Government to increase the number of children adopted. As a result of this process, more and more children are being taken into state foster care.
So why has her faith in the system she once facilitated been shattered? Because, thanks to a bewildering chain of events, this eloquent, educated woman found herself under attack from social workers and fighting to stop her own son being taken into care.
Hers is a Kafkaesque story involving family experts who passed judgment on her fitness as a mother without, in some cases, even meeting her.
Lucy’s story is particularly disturbing in the light of a report released this month which found that decisions about the futures of thousands of children are being based on flawed evidence from well-paid ‘experts’, some of whom are unqualified and, time and again, never meet the families concerned.
The damning study by Professor Jane Ireland, a forensic psychologist, examined more than 127 expert witness reports used in family court cases in three areas of England. She found that 90 per cent were produced by clinicians who no longer practise, but instead earn their living entirely as ‘professional expert witnesses’ paid for by council social work departments. Sixty-five per cent of the reports were poorly or very poorly carried out.
This has led to accusations from MPs, lawyers and families that many of the experts are on a gravy train — ‘hired guns’ paid to write precisely what social workers want to read.
This month the Mail reported how just such an accusation has been levelled against one leading psychiatrist, Dr George Hibbert — who faces allegations that he deliberately misdiagnosed parents as having mental disorders, which led to them having their children taken by social services.
John Hemming, a Lib Dem MP who is calling for a national inquiry into the use of expert testimonies in family court hearings, says this dubious system has resulted in families being torn apart and hundreds of children being wrongly taken for adoption from innocent parents.
It is a scenario Lucy Allan feared could happen with her own son. Her nightmare began last March when, aged 46, and having begun to feel depressed for no apparent reason, she decided to go to see a doctor. ‘I am close to my son, so I was worried that he knew I was feeling sad. I went to my local GP surgery expecting to be given a course of anti-depressants and then feel better,’ she recalls.
She was seen by a young female locum, who listened to what Lucy had to say, and then told her she wanted to refer her to social services to ‘see if the family needed support’.
The locum turned to Dr Peter Green, a consultant forensic physician and head of child safeguarding in Wandsworth, South London, where Lucy lives. A flamboyant figure with flowing grey hair and a penchant for bow ties, he has written thousands of reports for the family courts.
According to documents seen by the Allan family, Dr Green told the locum his view was that Lucy was ‘very self-centred’ — this despite the fact he had never set eyes on Lucy or spoken to her.
(When she later complained about the conclusions he had drawn without even having seen her, the doctor is alleged to have told her he had relied on a ‘gut feel’).
To Lucy’s horror, following Dr Green’s assessment, the locum informed social services that Lucy’s son was at significant risk of harm from his mother.
Thus it was that a woman whose job it had been to make decisions on the fostering panel about which children should be removed from their families suddenly found herself under the most intense scrutiny. ‘Instead of reading reports on another mother’s “emotionally abused” child or her “chaotic” home life, I was reading the same accusations in reports about me and my family,’ she says.
Social services insisted they interview her son, but as the inquiry unfolded, the evidence from his teachers suggested he was happy and thriving. An independent report from a NHS psychiatrist also said Lucy was ‘no risk to anyone, including her son’.
But social services hired their own psychiatrist from the Priory Hospital in Roehampton, south-west London — at taxpayers’ expense naturally.
Without meeting Lucy or her son, and based only on information provided by social services, the private psychiatrist stated in an ‘expert’ report that there was an ‘urgent need’ for the assessment and treatment of Lucy. The psychiatrist added that there was ‘no way’ her depression would not have a ‘significant impact on her parenting’.
As the investigation dragged on, Lucy underwent a series of interviews by social services and by experts paid by them to examine her and her family. Many of their subsequent reports, says Lucy, were inaccurate, biased and took her family’s words out of context.
For example, her son had mentioned that when he got off the school bus, he always asked Lucy how she was, but this was described in one report as: ‘Her son demonstrates inappropriate anxiety for the wellbeing of his mother on a daily basis.’
When Lucy admitted taking sleeping pills for insomnia and diazepam for anxiety, another report on her said such ‘drug abuse would make her barely conscious on a daily basis’.
Her confession of sharing a bottle of wine with husband Robin most nights was written up as ‘alcohol abuse’, and the risk of Lucy harming her son was deemed to be ‘substantiated’.
All this begs the question of how often such judgments are passed down by ‘experts’ and social workers on those less well equipped than Lucy to defend themselves.
She has spent the past year trying to clear her name, paid out £10,000 on legal fees and has had to pull herself off the A-list of David Cameron’s potential Tory candidates, quit as a school governor, and, of course, resign from the fostering panel.
‘I am now ineligible for the Criminal Record Bureau check required for working with children or young people,’ she says sadly. Her son’s social services records state that she was once considered a ‘risk’ to him, and it will remain on his file till he is 18.
Finally, at Christmas, the council’s social services said officially no action was required concerning Lucy. She is trying to rebuild her life with the help of husband Robin — who, incredibly, was never interviewed by social services — but still fears she could come under scrutiny again.
‘The system is designed to silence people,’ she says. ‘I have been prescribed anti-depressants and I am better. But at the back of my mind is the fear that if I complain too loudly about the child protection system they will be back at my door.’
No doubt she would agree with Nigel Priestley, a lawyer involved in family law, who said recently: ‘Just about the most draconian act the state can carry out is to remove a family’s child. What is at stake is the loss of their children, and on the basis of a report which might, or might not be, questionable.’
Those who write these reports — often psychologists or psychiatrists, but also medical doctors and consultants — do not face the glare of public scrutiny precisely because of the secrecy of the family court system. Lucy can describe her ordeal only because her case never got as far as those closed courts — no parent who appears at one of these hearings, which operate in every town and city in the land, is allowed to speak to anyone later about what has happened there, even to their own MP.
Every year, 200 mothers or fathers are jailed for ‘contempt of court’ for breaking this silence — while the same family courts request the removal of 225 children each week, 97 per cent of whom are never returned to their families.
Now, there are demands for an American-style ‘class’ legal action against the Government by parents who have had dubious or even bogus reports written about them. Paul Grant, a legal adviser at Bernard Chill & Axtell Solicitors in Southampton, says devastated parents have contacted him after his firm took on the case of a mother, known only as Miss A, who claims she was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder by psychiatrist Dr George Hibbert because social workers wanted her baby adopted.
The Mail has been contacted by scores of parents who believe they have been mistreated on the word of these ‘experts’. We have been told by lawyers about clinicians charging £1,800 a day to appear at family courts, on top of the thousands of pounds a time they receive for writing the reports, which often contain lies, ambiguities and insinuations.
One mother said she had her children taken away because an ‘expert’ said she ‘liked shopping’; another was criticised as mentally unfit for ‘burning the toast’, and lost her child, too.
In another case, an expert was paid handsomely to write a report based on the observations of a social worker who said a five-year-old girl was ‘monosyllabic’. Yet we are told a secret tape recording of the social worker’s interview showed the child chatting away about school, her family and her home. The little girl has since been removed from her mother.
We have also been told about a gregarious 47-year-old business adviser in the north of England who had to fight to keep her five-year-old daughter after being labelled a ‘totally isolated schizoid’ by a psychologist, who we understand is trained only to treat children, and should never have been involved in the analysis of adult behaviour.
The psychologist in question (who writes up to 100 expert reports a year) charged £6,000 for his written opinion on the mother, her husband and child. Yet the mother says she was given no chance to deny the ‘schizoid’ report — and kept her girl by the skin of her teeth only after the child’s nanny vouched for her parenting skills.
In another extraordinary case, after a woman was found by a psychologist to be a ‘competent mother’, the social workers are said to have insisted on commissioning a second expert’s report. It agreed with the first. They then commissioned a third, which finally found that the mother had a ‘borderline personality disorder’. All three of her children were taken away for adoption.
So how have such apparent travesties been allowed to go on virtually unchecked in child protection?
No other country in Western Europe removes so many children from their parents. The numbers taken into care — the first step towards adoption — have doubled in a decade to more than 10,000 a year. The last Labour government set adoption targets and rewarded local councils with hundreds of thousands of pounds if they reached them.
The targets have been scrapped after protests from MPs and lawyers, but the dangerous legacy persists. Social workers now get praise and promotion if they raise adoption numbers. David Cameron is also demanding more adoptions — and that they are fast-tracked.
It is the 1989 Children Act — which introduced a blanket secrecy in the family courts — that is the real culprit. It encouraged a lack of public scrutiny in the child protection system and what MP John Hemming calls the ‘twaddle and psychobabble’ peddled there, which has caused dreadful miscarriages of justice.
Ian Joseph, who has written a book on forced adoption, told me this week: ‘It’s time the criminal rules of justice applied in the family courts. We need parents to be considered innocent until proven guilty and also be free to talk about what is happening in those courts without being thrown into jail.’
Until that happens, hundreds more children may be seized from their families on the word of experts — many of whom are either not qualified or are receiving huge sums of money to play God.
Pay children to attend top private schools, British Government told
Dozens of top private schools are calling on the Government to provide state subsidies to allow bright pupils to be admitted irrespective of family background, it emerged today.
Eighty schools including Westminster, Manchester Grammar, City of London School and King Edward’s, Birmingham, are urging ministers to fund places for bright children whose parents cannot afford full fees.
The “Open Access” programme – proposed by the Sutton Trust charity – would create a system in which schools operated fully “needs blind” admissions.
It would represent a partial return to the “assisted places” scheme – when local councils provided parents with subsidies to take their children out of state schools – 15 years after the programme was axed by Labour.
Headmasters claimed the move would be cheaper than funding places in the state sector and boost levels of social mobility by allowing pupils to attend institutions with some of the best academic records in Britain.
But the move is likely to be fiercely resisted by teaching unions who claim it would divert cash away from the state education system.
It is also unlikely to be backed by the Conservative-led Coalition for fear of reigniting claims of “elitism”.
But Sir Peter Lampl, the Sutton Trust chairman, said: “Opening up these schools would result in over 30,000 children attending them based on merit who now cannot afford to do so. “This would transform social mobility at the top.”
In a report, the Sutton Trust suggest that education at a top private day school can be provided for around £11,000 per pupil each year.
Under the plan, it is proposing that the Government provide an average of £5,500 for each pupil to attend – around £500 less than a state school place – and parents pay the remainder.
The subsidy would be higher for the poorest pupils and lower for the very richest families, creating a system in which parents pay sliding fees based on their annual income.
Other schools supporting the programme include Lady Eleanor Holles in Hampton, the Grammar School at Leeds and the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle.
David Levin, headmaster of the City of London Boys’ School, said: “Despite our extensive bursary programme, we have to turn away many highly able students from low and middle income homes who would thrive in our school.
“Open Access would allow us to be truly needs blind in our admissions.”
British doctor fired after emailing prayer to colleagues
“A British doctor claims he was fired after emailing a prayer to his coworkers to “motivate” the department. Dr David Drew, a Christian, emailed a prayer by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, to colleagues at Walsall Manor Hospital, in western England, the Derby Telegraph reported overnight.
The 64-year-old, who is claiming unfair dismissal, first became the subject of an internal investigation after he raised concerns about the conduct of his colleagues on the hospital’s pediatric ward, a hearing was told.
Dr Drew told an employment tribunal in Birmingham of two occasions when children were sexually assaulted on the ward and one when a child died after a consultant let him go home.
He complained about the consultant who oversaw the fatality case and was stripped of his role as clinical director. When he later complained about a nurse he described as “very rude,” an investigation was carried out into his conduct.
Dr Drew was then dismissed after failing to accept one of the recommendations of the probe, which was that he “refrain from using religious references in his professional communications, verbal or written.”