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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, before we take the Statement on Ashworth Special Hospital, I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.
"This inquiry was established by my predecessor in February 1997 to investigate allegations by Mr. Steven Daggett, a former patient of Ashworth Special Hospital, that there was misuse of drugs, financial irregularities, possible child molesting and the circulation of pornographic material in the personality disorder unit at the hospital. I should also pay tribute to the work of my honourable friend the Member for Halifax who brought this matter to the attention of the Government. She subsequently received threatening phone calls which she believes came from people whose trade in pornographic videos was interrupted by her intervention.
"The inquiry sat for a total of 66 days, taking evidence from a wide range of witnesses involved in Ashworth Hospital, both past and present. The report presents a shameful picture. The general allegations made by Mr. Daggett were largely true. There were serious financial irregularities, drug abuse, pornography and a poor quality of patient care.
"Mr. Daggett's main allegations referred to Lawrence Ward in the personality disorder unit. A ward within a personality disorder unit, set inside a special hospital, had been repeatedly visited by a seven year-old girl who was allowed unsupervised contact with patients guilty of sex offences against children. Her father brought her into the personality disorder unit and, without let or hindrance, gave her unsupervised access to one patient who had a history of molesting young girls, including indecent assault and attempted rape. She also visited another patient who was locked up in Ashworth because he had kidnapped, tortured, sexually assaulted, mutilated and eventually murdered a 13 year-old boy. I am glad to say that the inquiry report concludes that there was no proof that the girl was abused, but that she was being "groomed" for later abuse.
"The inquiry asked how a young girl could have been allowed to visit such men. It was told that Lawrence Ward was special and that there were not many incidents. All the patients were allowed to roam around much of the hospital unaccompanied. For a time routine searching did not take place. The inquiry was told that the ward espoused the philosophy of a "democratic community".
"I should emphasise that the present inhabitants of this so-called "democratic community" have between them committed murders, manslaughters, indecent assaults, indecent assaults on children, assaults or woundings with intent and a host of other offences.
"The inquiry also concludes that a small group of patients, led by the child murderer, was intimidating patients and staff and had gained a grip on the ward. It also concludes that there was a drugs problem on Lawrence Ward and that it was endemic throughout the hospital, but that there was no direct evidence that nursing staff were involved.
"The financial irregularities arose from a shop on Lawrence Ward, from the sale of pornographic materials, including videos, and from people conducting credit card businesses. From the report, Lawrence Ward appears a veritable outpost of the enterprise culture. The father who brought his daughter into Ashworth Hospital also supplied pornographic videos, which it seems he was allowed to deliver by car to the ward without being properly searched. There was a shop on Lawrence Ward which was supposed to sell confectionery and soft drinks. Its turnover, starting at £50 per month, soared to £14,000 between January and October 1996. The child murderer also ran an unofficial shop from his side ward.
"Unbeknown to senior managers, several patients, including Mr. Daggett, had been allowed credit cards. Eventually, when managers decided to end this arrangement, patients were forced to cut up their cards. But they retained the numbers so that they could renew them or continue to use them in phone transactions. Security was so slack that Mr. Daggett managed to change his name by deed poll, acquire a new passport and driving licence and use a credit card to take out a large sum of money prior to absconding.
"The inquiry found that security was so lax that neither patients, staff, nor visitors were properly searched. They confirm Mr. Daggett's claim that on Lawrence Ward the patients' rooms were not properly searched. This was illustrated when a full-scale search in January 1997 revealed a stock of children's underwear in the room of the man who had molested girls and male pornography in the room of the child murderer. Both of them had VCRs used for copying videos. A previous search of the bootroom on the ward had revealed 41 pornographic videos.
"The inquiry set out to find how this deplorable situation had come about and how it had been allowed to persist. What it found out is a shameful story of confusion, indecision, mismanagement and incompetence. Some of the professionals and managers failed to show a glimmer of common sense, let alone live up to the standards of their professions. The whole thing was a mess from top to bottom.
"In the past Ashworth had operated a harsh and repressive regime. Following scandals in the early 1990s the Blom-Cooper inquiry in 1992 recommended a more liberal approach. The Fallon inquiry concludes that these recommendations were implemented without proper consideration of their differing impact on different patient groups in the hospital. As a result, the patients with personality disorders enjoyed most personal freedom and reduced security. The report says that it was quite predictable that these failures could be abused by some of the patients.
"What is clear is that, because of the failure of top management to lay down and enforce clear rules for both patients and staff, security became less and less important. As a result, more and more problems arose but nobody attended to them. As the report says, "all too often the core principles of security were absent".
"Nobody was seen to be in charge of the personality disorder unit. That was because nobody--with the possible exception of the patients--was really in charge. The senior management was out of touch. Psychiatrists seem to have been incapable of carrying out their proper professional functions. Management decisions, if known, were frequently ignored by both staff and patients. The internal monitoring system did not work. The members of the board do not seem to have known what was going on. The external monitoring system did not work. Events within Ashworth were not reported to senior officials of the NHS or the Department of Health. Reports into serious incidents were suppressed.
"The Fallon report concludes that the whole system was at fault. I am sure that that is right. But the report goes on to criticise the individuals. I am sure that is right too because so many people at Ashworth failed to do properly the jobs they were paid to do.
"The report criticises a number of people by name. Ashworth Hospital Authority has already taken disciplinary action against some people and some others have left Ashworth. In the case of those criticised in the report who are still employed by the NHS whether at Ashworth or elsewhere, I expect their current employers to initiate appropriate disciplinary proceedings in the light of this report. In at least one case this report will be drawn to the attention of the General Medical Council and other professional regulatory bodies. The United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting has already commenced disciplinary action in one case.
"The report recommends that Mr. Paul Lever, chairman of Ashworth Hospital Authority, should step down in accordance with the principles of public accountability, and he has done so. Anne Marie Nelson, former chairman of the Special Hospitals Service Authority and present chairman of the High Security Services Commissioning Board, has also resigned.
"The running of Ashworth and terrible incidents at Ashworth were the subject in the 1990s of a whole succession of inquiries and reports. In 1990 one patient was murdered on Owen Ward and another on Forster Ward. In 1992 the Director of Security carried out security audits at Ashworth, Broadmoor and Rampton. Her recommendations for greater security at Ashworth were ignored. At about the same time a task force which was implementing the Blom-Cooper report described Ashworth as over custodial. The Fallon report describes the task force's policy as a recipe for disaster.
"In 1993 an inquiry into the women's services at Ashworth (which are not part of the personality disorder unit) produced a damning report. In 1995 there was an internal investigation into a hostage-taking on Owen Ward. The report was 59 pages long with appendices covering 385 pages. Again it was a damning indictment of what went on, but staff were shown only a nine-page summary and so was the official responsible for implementing its
"The Fallon report makes 58 detailed recommendations. Some cover the operational procedures at Ashworth. I am giving the hospital authority four months to develop an action plan to implement the necessary changes within the hospital and I am appointing Ian Pirnie to chair the authority during this process. Mr. Pirnie presently chairs the Morcambe Bay Health Authority. I expect that he will bring to this task the leadership and management skills that he demonstrated as an admiral in the Royal Navy.
"Other recommendations cover the general role and organisation of the special hospitals and their relationship with the rest of the National Health Service. These will be the personal responsibility of Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of the NHS. I have given the task of ensuring progress on the more general recommendations which apply across government to Chris Kelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health. All three will report directly to me and all three will be expected to deliver.
"The inquiry team gave final clearance to its report on Wednesday of last week. The printed edition arrived this morning. It is being published this afternoon. A detailed response to all its recommendations will be published as soon as possible. In the meantime I can say that the Government broadly accept most of the recommendations and I can give an immediate response to some of those which will be of most concern. First, security. The report recommends that security should be given a higher priority; that searches of patients and staff should be introduced; that no visitors should be allowed in Ashworth without being searched; and that there should be regular searches of patients' rooms. The Government accept these recommendations. We give top priority to the safety of the public and we have already taken action.
"All aspects of security have been tightened up. New rules have been introduced. And management are making sure that they are implemented for people entering and leaving the Ashworth site, within the site and on the wards. Further investment in extra security staff is being made from 1st April this year, with an extra £1.5 million going to the special hospitals and
"Visits by children. We have already changed the rules on child visitors and gone beyond the recommendations in the report. In September last year we put a stop to child visits to ward areas and visits by children not close relatives of the patients. No visits are allowed unless judged to be in the best interests of the child. All visits by children must be off the ward and must be supervised. Any visits by a child must be by prior arrangement. These rules apply at all three hospitals, and I wish to make clear that anyone who breaches any of these rules can expect to be summarily dismissed from his job.
"The report recommends a review of the whole system of accountability within the NHS and between the NHS, officials of the Department of Health and Ministers, particularly in relation to the special hospitals and more generally. I share some of the inquiry's concerns about the system that I have inherited from my predecessors. I have made clear to the House who is to have personal responsibility for dealing with the various aspects of this report and that they will all report direct to me. That must be just for the present.
"The health Bill which we will be introducing shortly will put in place stronger and clearer accountability arrangements for the whole of the NHS and will end the internal market which has clearly inhibited more active management by the NHS Executive and regional officers. As recommended in the Fallon report, the commission for health improvement will cover the special hospitals. In addition the board of every hospital, including each special hospital, will have for the first time a statutory duty for the standards of treatment and care that they provide; there will be clearer powers for the Secretary of State to issue directions; and new arrangements for commissioning specialised services. I am giving further consideration to the question of overall accountability in the light of this report.
"The inquiry was set up to consider the personality disorder unit, not the future of the whole hospital and its high security psychiatric services. However the inquiry team recommended the closure of Ashworth Hospital. The Government do not accept that recommendation.
"In the policy document Modernising Mental Health Services on which I reported to the House on 8th December 1998, we made clear that we wanted to see a closer integration of the high security services with the other secure services and the reconstitution
"The personality disorder unit at Ashworth is not a decrepit Victorian dump. It was purpose built. Work started in 1976 and was completed in 1984. Replacing it with smaller high security units spread around the country would not guarantee better security, higher quality treatment and care or more effective management. Those would still have to be planned, organised and worked at.
"The members of the inquiry team gave a great deal of thought to how best the legal, medical and penal system should deal with people suffering from severe personality disorder. They make a number of very useful recommendations for far-reaching changes. I very much welcome these ideas which will be given careful consideration by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and by me as we develop new and more effective ways of dealing with people suffering from severe personality disorder whether presently in prison, in hospital or the outside world. Public security will be our main priority. The Government will also make sure that the recommendations in the Fallon report are made available to the teams reviewing the Mental Health Act and mental health services.
"The result is that this may lead to change in the role of the Ashworth personality disorder unit, the scale of operations there and how they are organised. It could well mean breaking the hospital up into smaller physically segregated units. But we do not contemplate its closure. We do, however, agree with the inquiry team that a new form of reviewable detention is needed for those people with a severe personality disorder who are considered to pose a grave risk to the public. We therefore announced in our strategy document Modernising Mental Health Services in December that we would be working up proposals that will ensure that the safety of the public is the prime concern and that a new regime is established for this difficult group of people.
"Since the Fallon inquiry got under way, there have been a lot of changes at Ashworth. The process of change has not been without its problems but progress is being made. The quality of the medical staff has improved substantially as a result of new appointments; management has improved; security has been tightened. But there is still a long way to go.
"A natural question which will arise in the minds of most decent people is, 'How is the little girl getting on?'. I have checked. She seems to be doing pretty well. She is living a settled life and, under a court order, her father has no contact with her. She was being exploited by the adult world. I am determined to ensure that from now on the adult world looks after her instead. I hope that all will respect her privacy.
"Finally, I should like to thank his honour Peter Fallon, and the other members of the inquiry team and their secretariat for the thorough way in which they have gone about their business and the report they have produced. They have done their job. Now it is up to us to do ours".
Earl Howe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this very full Statement which has been keenly anticipated for some considerable time. This inquiry, under the chairmanship of Judge Fallon QC, was established nearly two years ago by my right honourable friend Mr. Dorrell, then Secretary of State for Health, in the light of extremely disturbing allegations of wrongdoing at Ashworth Hospital. It was the strong wish of my right honourable friend that the inquiry should be thorough and that its findings should be published in full. Therefore, I welcome today's Statement and the accompanying substantial documents, notwithstanding their content which, to all of us, can only be a matter of profound dismay. I join the Government in paying tribute to Judge Fallon and his committee for the work that they have done, which has clearly been considerable.
The main purpose of the Fallon inquiry was to review the clinical policies and management of the personality disorder unit at Ashworth. Uppermost in everyone's minds when the inquiry started its work were the apparent woeful lapses in security and discipline at the hospital; and unfortunately those fears have been fully borne out. But leading on from that was the concern shared by many, including my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State, that the reporting chain and the associated chain of accountability between Ashworth and Department of Health Ministers had failed. That aspect of the matter has also been covered in the report and I believe that the conclusions confirm what many already realised.
However, some of the Statement is couched in terms which imply a failure by officials in the Department of Health and by Ministers. I do not believe that Ministers can be held to blame for things of which they were not
From this side of the House, we support all the report's central recommendations relating to security, discipline and accountability. However, I have a question about the role of the commission for health improvement. It appears from the Statement that the commission will, in the case of special hospitals, concern itself not just with clinical matters but also with matters of management and reporting. Is that a correct reading of the Government's intentions? What will now be the role of the Health Advisory Service and the Mental Health Commission?
The inquiry recommends the closure of Ashworth and the Government have rejected that proposal. I agree with the Government that the difficulties experienced at Ashworth do not relate to the bricks and mortar so much as to other factors. But I believe that they relate to more than just management. One of the comments made by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper in 1992 was that special hospitals are inherently unmanageable. To the extent that that is true, it reflects more than anything the ingrained culture of those institutions which management alone will find it very difficult to change. I do not say that that is impossible, but it is an extremely demanding brief.
I understand the Government's reasons for rejecting the closure option but it must be said that that recommendation by Judge Fallon is underpinned by some extremely careful analysis. To reject such a recommendation creates a heavy degree of responsibility on the Secretary of State's shoulders, as he must be aware. It is a responsibility to ensure that the alternative measures which he has proposed deliver the results that are required. I hope that the Government are confident that the measures to be taken will properly safeguard the public; will promote patient care; and will cure the long-running and intolerable problems at Ashworth. The Opposition stand ready to support the Government in implementing those measures but it really is vital that in the months ahead, the regime at Ashworth should be characterised by effective and transparent accountability. In the meantime, will the Minister say whether staff shortages are in evidence at Ashworth and, if so, in what areas?
At the heart of all this are the wider issues identified in the Statement; namely, the relationship between high security psychiatric care and the wider NHS and the integration too with the other secure services. I do not wish to initiate a more general debate on those matters this afternoon, but I urge the Government to look for new and imaginative ways of delivering the kind of secure therapeutic regime which Judge Fallon has so carefully identified and recommended and which will also overcome the inherent tendency of the present system, in its broadest sense, to hold patients in maximum secure surroundings for longer, sometimes far longer, than need be.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I join the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in the other place. There is a huge amount for which to thank his honour Judge Fallon and his colleagues. There is a great deal of meat in the report which most of us have not yet had time fully to digest.
There is a sense of shock and outrage, rightly, which rings through the Secretary of State's Statement. That certainly comes home very keenly to all of us from that Statement. Ashworth's situation was obviously a catalogue of terrible failures. First, I strongly welcome the Secretary of State's immediate proposals in response to the report. Clearly, there are many other aspects of the very long report which need to be considered. In particular, those are a review of security; the involvement of the Social Security Inspectorate; the restrictions on children; better accountability provisions; and also the involvement of the commission for health improvement when it is formed.
However, we know that the Secretary of State has emphasised very strongly, particularly in relation to the closure recommendation, that the problem is essentially one of management and not one of bricks and mortar. I share some of the reservations of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in that respect. It has had three chief executives in six years and I understand that a very able manager, Hilary Hodge, was put in by this Government as chief executive. She was forced to resign by the staff of Ashworth, and it appears to be the case that the staff were at that time, and probably still are, too powerful relative to the senior management, despite a statement about changes having taken place in the management of Ashworth. So we have grave doubts about the continuance of this institution, together with that of other special hospitals. Maybe these hospitals are unmanageable and therefore it needs to be demonstrated very quickly that the culture can be changed and the argument about the closure of Rampton, Broadmoor and Ashworth over creating smaller and more regionally-based units can be overcome.
We on these Benches are prepared to see whether these hospitals have a future. I have some sympathy with the Government's desire to see whether that culture and management can be changed, and in particular whether that can be done not only by changes of staffing and management but also by the physical changes that are being suggested. This can only be done on the basis that proper inspection and review systems are instituted. I ask the Government whether they will be ensuring that the commission for health improvement will have the necessary expertise to carry out this particular kind of inspection.
Will the Government also consider whether there are problems now in the hospital regarding under-staffing in terms of the number of psychiatric nurses available. This obviously goes hand in hand with the question of
Will they also ensure that the institutionalisation of staff does not occur again? Do the existing staff need to be dispersed? At the very least staff need to rotate through other institutions in the course of their careers. To this end, will the Government ensure that the Prison Health Service is merged with the NHS to ensure that this type of rotation can take place? In that context I ask the Minister: is she able to say when she thinks that the prison service health review will be published? There also need to be continuing education programmes for the staff so that they may be brought into much closer contact with the remainder of the NHS. Clearly the creation of these hospitals as special trusts may be a step in that direction.
In summary, we from these Benches welcome the steps already announced. We have an open mind about the future, but the Government need to be confident that they can make the necessary changes. What is needed is not only a vigorous response, as set out in the Statement, but also vigorous implementation. I ask the Minister whether she will keep an open mind and contemplate the closure of Ashworth if results cannot be achieved in short order. I am sure that the Minister will agree that this is an area in which all parties need to work together on a non-partisan basis, to make absolutely certain that these dreadful events never again take place.
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