Hospital chiefs at UK's biggest mental health trust under fire after refusing to reveal findings into fraud investigation

The investigation was triggered by the discovery of a £4m black hole that led to the scrapping of several clinical projects

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Hospital chiefs at the UK’s biggest mental health trust have been criticised for refusing to reveal if it will publish its findings into a year-long fraud investigation triggered by the discovery of a £4m black hole that led to the scrapping of several clinical projects.

Earlier this year The Independent on Sunday revealed external anti-fraud specialists had been called in to West London Mental Health NHS Trust to oversee an “independent investigation” into how the Capital, Estates & Facilities (CE&F) department green-lit several unfunded or unapproved schemes.

Among the projects binned was a £1.5m refurbishment of a community-support centre in Ealing. The Lammas Centre was instead sold in February to a private healthcare firm for £2.9m, a situation “not previously planned”, say board minutes. Investigators have been working on five counter-fraud reports, including the investigation into the CE&F department, still without a director, which was launched last April. The trust said the inquiry is complete, but refused to say if it will make the findings public.

Among the failed projects was £560,000 overspent on refurbishing an office block at Lakeside Mental Health Unit in Hounslow and almost £80,000 on a “Costa Coffee-style” café that hasn’t served a single beverage.

The financial chaos forced the trust to bring in an “efficiency programme” that has included selling land and buildings for £9.2m, helping the trust to report a budget surplus of £3.6m for the year 2014-15. Its financial position at the start of the new financial year is “robust” but “unbalanced across the Trust services”, an issue that “needs to be addressed ... [but] solutions are neither quick nor simple”, minutes state.

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The Lammas Centre in Ealing was sold in February to a private healthcare firm for £2.9m (Micha Theiner)

The IoS revealed last year that the trust, which has Broadmoor high-security hospital among its 32 sites, was trying to recover almost £100,000 in costs from whistleblower Dr Hayley Dare after she lost her employment tribunal on a legal technicality that no longer exists. Widespread bullying allegations were also reported and it was revealed that chairman Nigel McCorkell resigned halfway through his second four-year fixed term.

The trust has stayed in the bottom five of the 56 mental health organisations nationally for four years, a situation described by medical director Dr Nick Broughton as “obviously ... a cause of considerable concern”.

New West London chairman Tom Hayhoe has promised an overhaul in how the trust is governed. Following his arrival last month, he told the board: “It is clear ... that we need to change some of the governance arrangements for the trust, including changes to the way that the board and its sub-committees operate. I intend to bring proposals to the board ... at our meeting at the end of May.”

Senior staff are also busy preparing for the arrival of Care Quality Commission investigators for a week in June, carrying out briefing sessions and mock inspections.

Mr Hayhoe said: “I hope that we will all approach the inspection in a spirit of openness and candour.”

It has also emerged a West London patient was wrongly given methotrexate (used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis) daily rather than weekly, causing a trust-wide alert to be sent out. The situation resulted in a “never event” – a “serious” and “wholly preventable” incident.

 

Mental health services have suffered real-term cuts over the past five years and further grim news emerged last week. Data from three-quarters of trusts show from 2014-15 to 2018-19 income is expected to fall by 8 per cent in real terms, according to figures obtained by the BBC. But NHS England said accurate predictions could not be made until the Government established its spending plans.

A trust source told The IoS: “It will be interesting to see whether the investigation into the £3.9m overspend is ever made public. Given the new chairman’s comments about ‘openness and candour’, it would be hypocritical if it was not.”

The trust said the refurbishment of the Lammas Centre became too expensive during the planning stage and that “a better, more cost effective” recovery house would open soon in Ealing. A spokeswoman said the independent investigation is complete and it is “considering next steps”.

She added: “West London Mental Health Trust is committed to providing the highest quality patient care that represents good value for taxpayers who fund mental health services. We have robust governance systems in place that scrutinise our quality and patient experience so that we can maintain the highest standards of care. We conduct annual planned audits of services so that the public can be assured that we have effective systems in place to prevent fraud.”

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