Blair's health adviser `neglected patients'

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The Independent Online
A FORMER health adviser to Tony Blair appeared before the General Medical Council yesterday, charged with the neglect of elderly patients at one of a string of care homes he ran.

Dr Chai Patel, a high-profile donor to the Labour Party and an architect of the Government's policies on the elderly, is accused of serious professional misconduct and could be struck off the medical register if found guilty.

He is alleged to have ignored complaints that residents of the pounds 800-a- week Lynde House care home in Twickenham, south-west London, were left drenched in their urine, put at risk of falls and ignored by untrained staff.

Dr Patel, who now runs the Priory chain of rehabilitation clinics, was chief executive of Westminster Healthcare, which owned Lynde House, when the complaints surfaced. The scandal forced him to step down as a government adviser on the Department of Health's older people's task force and as a trustee of the charity Help the Aged.

The GMC hearing is seen as a test case for the responsibility doctors who run a business such as a care home have towards people who are not their direct patients. Dr Patel's counsel, Mary O'Rourke, claimed yesterday that he had no legal responsibility and no responsibility as a medical practitioner for the healthcare of residents, because he had no patient-doctor relationship with any of them.

"Just because he is a registered general medical practitioner that cannot impose upon him the responsibility of safeguarding the healthcare of residents in a nursing home," Ms O'Rourke told the GMC's fitness-to- practise panel. Dr Patel, 50, is accused of failing to "safeguard the health, safety and welfare" of residents at the home.

Relatives of residents and a local GP began raising concerns and complaining about standards of care in 1998, the hearing was told. But Dr Patel did not investigate claims in a letter sent to him that residents at the home were often left sitting in their urine and that catering and general standards of care were poor, it is alleged.

An independent report into the home, published in 2001, found it was understaffed and under-resourced. Another investigation, commissioned by the Kingston and Richmond health authority and published in 2002, found a catalogue of failings including a high level of falls among residents and unexplained bruising which was not investigated.

Personal grooming was of a poor standard, with the more dependent residents looking "unkempt and dishevelled", the report into complaints in relation to 13 patients by the McLaren Consultancy found. There was also an acute lack of commodes, a lack of strategies to prevent pressure sores and call bells were out of reach of residents.

The report said concerns and complaints had been raised repeatedly with Westminster Healthcare since 1998 by residents, relatives and friends but "insufficient action" had been taken.

Dr Patel was appointed CBE in 1999, the year in which he made a substantial donation to the Labour Party. He left Westminster Healthcare in 2002 and led a management buyout of Priory Healthcare, backed by investment bankers.

A spokesman for Dr Patel's private office said he expected to be cleared by the committee. "We don't expect a negative outcome," he said."We very much hope these proceedings show he is not guilty of serious professional misconduct." The hearing is expected to last six weeks.