Hospital worker ‘preyed on stroke victims’

An inquiry into how a “well-liked, well-respected” healthcare assistant allegedly abused vulnerable stroke patients has drawn parallels with the investigation into offences by Jimmy Savile.

Wednesday, 19th December 2012, 3:00 pm

The alleged abuse of male patients on Ward 17 of the Luton & Dunstable Hospital often happened at times when intimate personal care was being carried out.

Ameet Mohabeer, of Butely Road, Luton, was charged in June 2011 with 17 counts of sexual abuse dating back to 2008. But he killed himself before the case went to trial.

The inquiry reported a “sense of disbelief in the ward from staff who worked with the alleged perpertrator”, adding there were “still some staff who do not believe he would have done what has been described”.

Yesterday the chair of the safeguarding board in charge of the inquiry, Prof Michael Preston-Shoot, said there were comparisons to be drawn with the Savile case.

“We have to acknowledge that popularity, being well-liked, generating respect for the work you do, invites people to depart from a position of curiosity,” he said.

“Where there’s a similarity between this and the Savile case is that when an organisation loses curiosity they become vulnerable. And as soon as you lose curiosity you are running dangerous risks.”

The first allegation of abuse by Mr Mohabeer was reported by a patient in November 2009, but the case was closed after police were unable to bring a prosecution, because the victim’s account was “ambiguous and inconsistent”.

After being suspended for one day, Mohabeer was allowed to return to work and no precautions were taken in relation to him working alone with vulnerable patients.

Hospital chief executive Pauline Philip said there was “no suspicion between 2009 and 2011”, adding: “There were no concerns raised – if anything there were compliments from patients and their families.”

The author of the inquiry report, Derek Law MBE, found no evidence of a cover-up at the hospital, but said a plan of supervision should have been implented by the hospital’s human resources department in light of the accusations.

His report reads: “The alleged perpertrator may have operated in a clever way to ensure other staff would not be around at the time of the alleged offences and in areas of the ward where he would be less likely to be seen.

“It is a fact that the he was able to spend reasonable amounts of time on his own with patients, operating either behind drawn curtains or in the bathroom and shower rooms.

“Staff described being taken in and in one case even inferred that colleagues had ‘made it easy’ for him.”

He also said that at least one of the alleged incidents of abuse in 2011 could have been prevented if the police investigation and suspension of the staff member allegedly involved had happened more quickly, adding that there was “indecisiveness” shown by respective agencies, who were “passing responsibility to another to act”.

He said that the safeguarding board should be mindful of any recommendations around “predatory, clever, manipulative behaviour in hospitals” resulting from the government inquiry into Savile’s activities at hospitals.

The report also detailed the hospital’s failure to report the alleged 2011 assaults to the National Patient Safety Agency and the Care Quality Commission.

And it revealed the hospital’s own director of nursing, who was responsible for adult safeguarding, was not told about the 2009 allegations when they were reported.

Mr Law said lessons to be learned included understanding potential perpertrators, not assuming other agencies were dealing with safeguarding alerts, and ensuring human resources best practice was being followed.

Two patients have taken legal action over the abuse, and a settlement in one case has been reached. Mr Law said the offences included masturbation and oral sex.

The hospital was “deeply sorry” for what had happened, said Mrs Philip, adding: “The safety of our patients is our highest priority. It has been a devastating experience for everybody who works to provide the best possible services for our patients.

Prof Preston-Shoot added: “It’s exceedingly upsetting and disillusioning for staff when events like this happen, and the hospital has put in place a considerable number of mechanisms to ensure that going forward this is a safe place for people.”

An inquest into Mr Mohabeer’s death heard he had left a note saying he was not taking his own life because he was guilty.