Hospital 'whistleblower' to appeal against dismissal

A SENIOR social worker who blew the whistle on mistreatment of patients at a high-security hospital has been sacked for allegedly supplying a patient with a sales catalogue for electronic listening devices.

A disciplinary hearing on Monday found Susan Machin guilty of gross misconduct - producing the response from her MP that the verdict sounded 'Kafkaesque'.

Ms Machin was one of the 'Ashworth Five' who gave evidence to an inquiry completed by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper in 1992 which found that patients were subjected to a 'cruel and brutalising' regime by some staff at Ashworth Hospital on Merseyside. Later she raised serious concerns, taken up by the Mental Health Act Commission, over high levels of medication on women's wards at the hospital.

Ashworth Hospital yesterday refused to discuss the charges against Ms Machin, saying she had a right of appeal to the Special Hospital Service Authority. The hospital insisted, however, that her dismissal was 'not in any way connected to the public inquiry or the management of women's services at Ashworth Hospital'.

Ms Machin said she was 'stunned and disgusted' at her dismissal, believing the charges against her were 'motivated by malice' and were 'connected to the position I have taken at the hospital since my arrival'. She denies supplying the catalogue.

The disciplinary panel found that 'on the balance of probability' she did supply it, and stated: 'This is in breach of the Special Hospital Service Authority's disciplinary rules and constitutes gross misconduct.' The panel said such action was 'a serious breach of hospital security' which 'compromised the safety and welfare of other patients and staff'.

David Luxton, national officer with the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Scientists, who represented Ms Machin, said she did not supply the catalogue and even if she had, a patient on pounds 20 a week could not have afforded the pounds 700 to pounds 1,000 listening devices listed 'which would not have got through the hospital's security arrangements anyway'.

Mr Luxton said Ms Machin would be appealing. Colin Pickthall, Labour MP for Lancashire West, who has told Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, that he believes the charge was 'trumped up', said he was 'shocked' by the result.

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