Blind eye to complaints allowed psychiatrists to abuse patients

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 21 July 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:175
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    An NHS culture of turning a blind eye allowed two psychiatrists to get away with sexually abusing scores of vulnerable women patients through the 1970s and 1980s. This was the conclusion this week of the report of an independent inquiry commissioned by the Department of Health.

    Concerns and complaints about William Kerr and Michael Haslam were never acted on by the NHS, and they were allowed to retire in 1988. They were also allowed to remove themselves voluntarily from the medical register, avoiding disciplinary action by the General Medical Council.

    Complaints were ignored, consultants were seen as “all powerful,” and colleagues were reluctant to raise concerns about fellow professionals, concluded the inquiry's panel, which was chaired by Nigel Pleming QC.

    Haslam, 71, was jailed in 2003 after he was convicted of four counts of indecently assaulting patients. A conviction for rape was later quashed by the Court of Appeal.

    Kerr, 77, who has a brain wasting disease, was convicted in his absence of one count of indecent assault in 2000. He was given an absolute discharge but placed on the sex offenders' register.

    “Patient complainants largely got nowhere, professional complainants often fared worse, attracting blame, criticism and a degree of professional ostracism that deterred others from following their lead,” the report said.

    Professionals were reluctant to take any action against consultants out of “a misguided sense of loyalty and fear of confrontation,” and administrators devised mechanisms to protect themselves rather than patients.

    The inquiry heard evidence that Kerr, who worked at Clifton Hospital in York from 1965 until his retirement in 1988, was guilty of “sexualized behaviour” with at least 67 women. Some had come forward only during the inquiry, but 38 claimed to have made disclosures at the time, not one of which was investigated.

    Haslam, who was appointed a consultant at Clifton Hospital in 1970, gave rise to at least 10 complaints of sexual advances, but it was only after a complaint of sexual assault that he was “allowed, perhaps even encouraged,” to retire from the NHS. He continued to work in private practice.


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