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Lib Dem links to hospitals of shame

SOLOMON HUGHES examines the connection between the deputy party leader and the man behind a string of failing private mental hospitals

Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes accepted a £60,000 donation to his constituency party from a businessman whose company runs a private health-care business heavily criticised by inspectors for poor treatment of NHS mental patients.

Hughes lists the £60k donation from Sudhir Choudhrie in the current register of MPs' interests.

This unusually large sum will help Hughes defend his 8,000 majority in his Bermondsey constituency at the next election.

Hughes likes to pose as the "conscience" of the Lib Dems. He has criticised the coalition's health Bill, arguing against "widespread privatisation of NHS services," and has said that the "NHS should be responsive to patients' needs, based on co-operation rather than competition, and promote quality and equity not the market."

However, accepting the £60,000 from Choudrie links Hughes to some of the worst of NHS privatisation.

Choudrie set up Alpha Hospitals, which is a subsidiary of his family firm, C&C Alpha Group.

He no longer serves on the board of the companies, although he is still one of the owners. Choudhrie's son Bhanu and his nephew Dhruv are both Alpha directors.

Very poor treatment at the Choudries' health firm was uncovered last year.

Inspectors found a private mental hospital run by Alpha Healthcare failed to meet eight out of nine "care standards." Among many concerns, inspectors recorded that "one female adolescent patient had been restrained by nine members of staff, one of whom was a male," because she refused to remove her underwear at the Woking hospital.

Alpha Hospital in Woking is a private low-security mental health hospital which treats young people and adolescents for the NHS.

The February 2013 inspection of Alpha Hospital found that another adolescent had been held face down for 12 minutes in a restraint and that there were problems with adolescents being "strip-searched."

A second inspection in June was better, but the hospital still "required improvement" on safeguarding the patients and other issues.

The February inspection also found that adolescent boys were locked out of their bedrooms during the day and had neither privacy nor enough time for phone calls.

Girls were made to wear "security clothing" during the day instead of their own clothes and were not allowed personal belongings in their bedrooms.

Records showed one inmate had been "assisted" out of her clothes by staff. Another had been left naked in a seclusion room.

Inspectors were worried that "social workers or parents were not able to meet with their relative or client in private. A member of staff had to be in the visitor's room with them."

Inspectors said: "We were concerned about the restrictive practices at the hospital that limits the freedom and choices adolescents could make about their care, treatment and support."

The inspectors "were concerned about the amount of patients that were being put into seclusion" - with adolescents being secluded for six days or even longer.

Inspectors found there were "often shortages of staff" at the hospital.

The inspectors received information from an anonymous whistleblower. This person had informed that the adolescent service had not had "an occupational therapist, psychologist or a psychology assistant for some time."

Inspectors found that "there were insufficient numbers of suitably qualified, skilled and experienced persons" in the hospital.

In the June follow-up visit the hospital still failed three out of eight standards. 

Inspectors found "people's privacy, dignity and independence were not respected" and "patients who used the service were not protected against the risk of excessive restraints."

The situation was much better than in February, but inspectors still demanded improvement because "these changes need to be embedded in practice."

All three of Alpha's private mental health hospitals that were inspected by the Care Quality Commission in 2013 failed to meet some standards.

Alpha's hospital in Sheffield, a mental health unit for women, failed three out of five inspection standards in a July 2013 inspection.

The hospital was inspected four times in 2013 "to make sure that the improvements required had been made." Inspectors found "regular and repeated errors in the prescribing and administering of medication."

The Alpha Hospital in Bury, another mental health hospital, failed three out of five standards at an October 2013 inspection and was told to improve care and management.

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