Solar Centre scandal: Day centre abuse review descends into farce


newslatestThe NHS trust at the centre of a day centre abuse scandal has denied ignoring whistleblowers who tried to raise concerns about poor standards – months before the regime was finally exposed.

The abuse was eventually halted in March 2007 after a member of staff complained to managers about colleagues working in the Solar Centre, run by Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH).

But an RDaSH document included in the annexe to a serious case review into the scandalpublished last week by the multi-agency Doncaster Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board – suggests that at least one manager ignored earlier concerns about the day centre.

The document describes reasons given by Solar Centre staff for not reporting the abuse at the time it was taking place. It says that one of these was: “Lack of appropriate response when previous concerns had been raised.”

The trust insisted this week that the first time any of its managers were aware of concerns with the Solar Centre was on 8 March 2007, when they “took immediate action”.

But Dr Nav Ahluwalia, RDaSH’s executive medical director, repeatedly avoided saying what those “previous concerns” were – in an interview with Disability News Service (DNS) – although he insisted that they were not related to the abuse scandal and were “out of the scope of this review”.

The scandal took a farcical twist when Dr Ahluwalia disputed key statements made last week about these warnings by the author of the serious case review.

Gill Poole told DNS last week that she had discussed with RDaSH the possibility that there had been earlier warnings by potential whistleblowers, but the trust had said there was nothing on paper that proved any concerns had been raised.

She said: “They said there was nothing that proved it, no evidence of it.”

But Dr Ahluwalia claimed this week that Poole had never even discussed this issue with the trust.

He said he had spoken with every person in the trust who had liaised with Poole and “not one of them had a single conversation with Gill Poole about this issue”.

DNS has emailed Poole in an attempt to confirm and clarify her comments, but she has yet to respond. The safeguarding board, and Doncaster council, which plays a key role on the board through its responsibility for adult social services, have also failed to respond to requests for a comment.

Nursing assistants Susan Murphy, aged 44, and James Hinds, aged 59, were found guilty in May last year of a total of 25 charges of ill-treating people with learning difficulties, physical impairments and high support needs at the Solar Centre.

The two other defendants, Julie Burge and Michael Barnard, were cleared of all charges.

The service-users had suffered more than two years of abuse from Hinds and Murphy, who intimidated other staff into silence.

Last week, DNS reported how Poole’s report contained little or no criticism of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the safeguarding board, or RDaSH itself, despite a string of failures by these organisations over the last seven years.

Her report omits nearly all of the concerns highlighted by DNS in the four years it has been investigating the Solar Centre scandal.

But no public body has so far been willing to criticise the SCR or its author.

RDaSH said the report was “fair, balanced and comprehensive”, while “every agency had something to learn and RDaSH was no exception”.

The safeguarding board, and Doncaster council, have so far failed to comment.

The Care Quality Commission also failed to comment on the SCR, as did the CPS.

South Yorkshire police said it had “accepted the serious case review” and was “working on the recommendations”.

But a police spokeswoman added: “I do not think it would be appropriate for us to discuss whether the report was right or not.

“The Doncaster Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board has approved it and we are part of [the board].”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it was “not appropriate for us to comment on the quality of an independently-commissioned serious case review”, while she said she did not know whether the Liberal Democrat care and support minister Normal Lamb was concerned about the quality of the review.

24 July 2014