Social worker faces hearing to clear name

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The Independent Online
SUSAN MACHIN, a senior social worker at Ashworth special hospital, faces a disciplinary hearing on 7 February after being suspended in the wake of allegations by colleagues, writes Rosie Waterhouse. Two of the three allegations have been dropped already.

One of the 'Ashworth Five' whistleblowers, Ms Machin gave evidence to the inquiry chaired in 1992 by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, after which the general manager was moved, seven staff were suspended and the medical director was removed from his post.

She was suspended last August after allegations that she 'supplied a patient with a catalogue of listening devices; gave information to a patient which could have resulted in his obtaining confidential information about a colleague; and consorted with a patient to obtain audio tapes contrary to ward policy'.

A preliminary internal inquiry found there was no case to answer on the second charge, and no evidence to support the third. The first allegation will be dealt with at the disciplinary hearing.

In a statement after her suspension, the local branch of Ms Machin's union, the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, said: 'Susan has been seeing a patient on a ward for bereavement counselling at weekly intervals over a year. This patient ordered a catalogue which was sent to him via Susan. Until she received it she had no knowledge that he had ordered it . . . Susan had no real knowledge of the contents as she is not an expert in the field. Not only did she mention handing over the catalogue to the patient's own social worker and a speech therapist, but she has recorded this fact on file.'

In a letter to Janice Miles, general manager of Ashworth, the social workers wrote of their 'incredulity' that such a matter could not be resolved without suspension. 'In our view Susan has always shown maximum dedication to patients. Susan's courageous evidence to the Ashworth inquiry displayed a most visible commitment to those values which are enshrined in this department's mission statement.'

In a letter to Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, Colin Pickthall, Labour MP for Lancashire West, wrote: 'I am convinced that the moves against her are partly to prevent her attempts to register continuing concerns about the hospital, including many incidents of massive over-medication and/or over-sedation. I believe an inquiry into this was held but has been stifled.'

(Photograph omitted)