Health authority faces sack over old people's ward closure

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Members of a health authority could be sacked for approving the sudden move of five elderly people into a nursing home - in order to close a ward - against the advice of the doctor in charge. Three of the patients died within three weeks of the move.

A parliamentary select committee will today recommend that the Secretary of State for Health consider sacking the members of North and Mid-Hampshire Health Authority for the decision.

The committee, chaired by James Pawsey, MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, said that the "members and officers should be ashamed of what took place. We recommend that the Secretary of State review the suitability of these persons to be in positions of responsibility in the health service."

The committee condemned the way that the decision to close the ward, at Park Prewett Hospital, Hampshire, and move the patients, was taken behind closed doors and in the face of a strong recommendation against it by the consultant in old age psychiatry, Dr Pearl Hettiaratchy, who is a vice-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The patients were eventually moved when the doctor was on holiday.

Mr Pawsey said yesterday: "This was an appalling case. It is very rare that a committee recommends that the Secretary of State review the suitability of health authority members to be in positions of responsibility. That underlines the seriousness of the case."

The select committee was commenting on the report of the Health Service Ombudsman, who had already condemned the actions of the health authority in his report for 1995-96. He investigated the matter, after a complaint from relatives of one of the patients who was moved - a man in his 90s, who died two weeks after being put into a nursing home.

The select committee went further than the Ombudsman, however. It said: "We cannot criticise strongly enough this brazen attempt to ignore the expert advice of the responsible clinician who had known the patient for six years. Her advice was inconvenient to the relevant managers."

"Mr [Alan] Langlands, Chief Executive of the NHS Executive in England, in speaking of this case, did not question the motives or integrity of the authority. We do.

"The decision to bring forward the move was made without knowledge of the clinical assessment of all the patients and pursued in a highly improper manner. The interests of the patients were forgotten.

"We criticise the authority for making the decision in a closed meeting. We consider that the description of the meeting as informal, despite all the trappings of a formal meeting, suggests some sleight of hand and an attempt to rush through a decision without the inconveniences of public scrutiny and possible controversy. We deplore such blatant disregard for departmental guidance."