The care watchdog has finally agreed to investigate how a nursing assistant accused of abusing disabled people could then work for a care agency, even though she should have been barred from all care work.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) eventually agreed to act, several weeks after concerns were raised by Disability News Service (DNS).
The troubled commission – currently under fire over its handling of serious care failings at Morecambe Bay NHS foundation trust – will look into how abuser Susan Murphy was able to work for the care agency.
She was one of four members of staff at the Solar Centre day centre in Doncaster who were suspended after a whistleblower raised concerns in 2007.
But for nearly a year, from 2009 to 2010, Murphy worked with A1 Medical and General, a care agency which provides “nurses, carers and support workers to the NHS, prisons, private hospitals, care homes, and supported living services”, and is based less than a mile from the Solar Centre.
Murphy, 44, was eventually charged with ill-treating Solar Centre service-users, all adults with learning difficulties and high support needs.
A trial at Sheffield Crown Court heard how she slapped and hit service-users and locked one woman in a cupboard. She was found guilty of 15 offences and sentenced earlier this month to two years and nine months in prison.
An internal report into the allegations, compiled by Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), suggested that 18 people had been abused.
But because of police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failures, it took six years – and two unsuccessful investigations – for the case to reach court.
A1 has told DNS that it carried out what was then known as a Criminal Records Bureau check – now carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service – on Murphy, but has declined to reveal the result.
Meanwhile, RDaSH has yet to deny suggestions that another of the four defendants, Julie Burge, who was later acquitted of all criminal charges against her, had continued to be employed by the trust for a period between 2007 and 2013.
CQC and its predecessor watchdogs repeatedly praised RDaSH for its care, even while an investigation into the abuse was ongoing.
Despite the Healthcare Commission being told about the allegations in 2007, the trust was given an “excellent” rating three years running, in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09.
And so impressed was CQC – which took over the regulatory duties of the Healthcare Commission in April 2009 – with the standard of care at RDaSH that it was “named and famed” as one of 44 high-performing trusts in October 2009.
A CQC spokeswoman said that when it first registered the trust, RDaSH had “provided detailed information regarding both the initial allegations and the subsequent actions taken by all involved parties”.
She said: “We followed this up as part of our engagement and inspection activity and were satisfied that the trust had investigated thoroughly and taken action against the staff concerned.”
She said CQC had not been aware that Murphy – and possibly Burge as well – had been working in the care sector between being suspended and the trial, until being informed by DNS.
The CQC spokeswoman said this would now be investigated as part of discussions about the Solar Centre scandal with Doncaster Adult Safeguarding Board.
She added: “We would be extremely grateful if you could clarify the name of the individual, the agency she was reported to be working at and any other information you have regarding this issue.
“We will then follow this up with all relevant parties to ascertain whether regulatory action is required.”
DNS has joined five families of former Solar Centre service-users in calling for an independent inquiry into the failures in the case by South Yorkshire police, CPS, RDaSH and other agencies.
26 June 2013