Watchdog faces cover-up claim over Solar Centre scandal


newslatestThe care watchdog is facing allegations of a cover-up, after refusing to answer key questions about how it dealt with the fall-out from a day centre abuse scandal.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) was told last year that nursing assistant Susan Murphy was able to work for nearly a year for a care agency, even though she should have been barred from all care work with adults.

Murphy had been suspended from her job at the Solar Centre in Doncaster in 2008 after a whistleblower alleged that disabled service-users were being abused.

But from 2009 to 2010 Murphy found work with A1 Medical and General, a care agency which is based less than a mile from the day centre, on the edge of Doncaster.

Murphy was found guilty last year of 15 charges of ill-treating adults with learning difficulties and high support needs at the Solar Centre. Another nursing assistant, James Hinds, was found guilty of 10 charges of ill-treatment. Both were jailed for two years and nine months.

In the wake of the court case, in June 2013, Disability News Service (DNS) told CQC how Murphy had been able to find paid employment with A1 Medical and General, even though she should have been barred from such work. CQC promised to investigate.

But a serious case review (SCR) into the scandal, published last month, failed to mention Murphy’s work with the agency, among many other omissions.

CQC has refused to comment on the quality of the report, which ignored nearly all of the concerns highlighted by DNS since it began investigating the Solar Centre scandal in 2010, including the information about Murphy and A1.

CQC has now also refused to answer key questions about how it dealt with the Susan Murphy concerns.

DNS first asked CQC on 22 July about Murphy’s work with A1. CQC was also asked about the decision of the trust that runs the Solar Centre – Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH) – to continue employing Julie Burge, a nursing assistant who was cleared of all charges against her at last year’s trial.

CQC’s initial response was: “CQC passed these concerns on the care agency that employed Susan Murphy who reported [their]own concerns to the Police.”

When this response was queried with CQC, it eventually confirmed that it had requested “detailed information” from A1, which told the watchdog that “all checks were carried out” and that Murphy had provided references.

The CQC spokesman said A1 claimed it had not kept a copy of a Criminal Records Bureau check carried out on Murphy but that “their records do not reflect that there were any issues arising” from that check in 2009.

A1 apparently told CQC that it believed it had been the victim of “a deception”, 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”.

CQC said it also contacted RDaSH to ask about Julie Burge and was told “that the allegations against Julie Burge were found not to be proved” at a trust hearing.

DNS then asked CQC a series of key questions in a bid to clarify its statement, among them whether the watchdog was concerned that Murphy was able to work for a year at a care agency while suspended from the Solar Centre, and what steps it was taking to ensure that this could not happen again.

DNS asked whether a CQC inspector had checked the agency’s records in person, or had simply been given information over the telephone.

DNS also asked whether CQC had checked with South Yorkshire police that it was investigating the alleged deception by Murphy, whether it was comfortable that Julie Burge was continuing to work for RDaSH, and whether it had asked the police or CPS if it could see the evidence against Julie Burge.

Nearly a week later, the CQC spokesman said in a statement: “The serious case review, of course, looked into these issues in detail and it is not CQC’s role to go over ground that the review covered.

“I apologise for the delay in getting back to you but we have nothing to add to the statements that we have already given you.”

7 August 2014