The care watchdog has admitted carrying out a flawed investigation into how a nursing assistant already suspended from work for alleged abuse of disabled people was able to work with a care agency for nearly a year.
The recruitment agency in Doncaster claimed that it had been the victim of a deception, and told the Care Quality Commission (CQC) last year that it would contact the police, after claiming that Susan Murphy had tricked her way onto its books.
But CQC failed to check the agency’s claim with South Yorkshire Police. It also failed to confirm that the agency, A1 Medical and General, really had secured “adequate references” from Murphy, or that it had carried out the required checks into her background with the Criminal Records Bureau, as it had claimed.
It is just the latest in a long line of failures by local and national agencies, exposed by a lengthy Disability News Service (DNS) investigation into the abuse that took place at the Solar Centre day centre.
This week, DNS confirmed with South Yorkshire Police that it “has not received any reports relating to Susan Murphy gaining employment through a care agency while she was suspended during the investigation into the Solar Centre”.
CQC – which has been blighted by a string of similar failings since its launch in 2009 – admitted that it should have done more to check on A1’s actions.
Although Murphy was on the books of an unregulated part of the agency, she could have worked for hospitals and care homes while with A1.
A CQC spokesman said: “We are clear that we should have ascertained that the police had been notified and we did not do so. We relied on the assurance from the agency.
“We are now going to contact the agency and point out this discrepancy and in doing so we will be copying in the South Yorkshire constabulary.”
Murphy was suspended in 2008 after a whistleblower alleged that disabled service-users were being abused at the Solar Centre – run by Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust – but from 2009 to 2010 she found work with A1, which is based less than a mile from the day centre.
Murphy was eventually found guilty last year of 15 charges of ill-treating adults with learning difficulties and high support needs, and was jailed for two years and nine months, along with another former nursing assistant from the Solar Centre, James Hinds.
In the wake of the court case, in May 2013, DNS told CQC that Murphy had found paid employment for nearly a year with A1, which provides staff to the NHS, private hospitals, prisons and private and public sector care homes across Yorkshire.
The care watchdog eventually agreed to investigate, several weeks after the concerns were first raised by DNS.
Last month, CQC said it had spoken to A1, which told the watchdog that it believed it had been the victim of “a deception” by Murphy, because “some of the information provided as part of her application and recruitment appear to have been falsified”.
The CQC spokesman said the agency had “decided to approach the police about the matter”.
But CQC admitted that it had failed to check what it was told by A1 last year, and had made no attempt to contact South Yorkshire Police.
It also failed to check the three references that A1 claims to have on file for Murphy.
A1 does not itself have to be registered with CQC for most of its work, thanks to a loophole in care regulations.
This means that A1 – and other such agencies – can escape fines or other sanctions if they allow nurses and care workers who have been banned or suspended from the industry to work with disabled people.
After a request from DNS, CQC has now brought the agency loophole to the attention of the Department of Health, reminding it that day centres are also outside the scope of CQC regulation.
A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said: “South Yorkshire Police has not received any reports relating to Susan Murphy gaining employment through a care agency while she was suspended during the investigation into the Solar Centre.
“The force would urge any person or organisation that has any information in relation to this to pass that on to police so we can take action.
“Information can be passed to South Yorkshire Police on 101 or alternatively to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”
A1 has failed to respond to a number of requests for a comment this week.
11 September 2014