Celebrity rehab clinic closed by health watchdog

Health Editor,Jeremy Laurance
Thursday 29 April 2010 00:00 BST

A private rehab clinic that has treated a string of celebrities, including the singer Amy Winehouse, has been ordered to close by a health regulator.

The Causeway Retreat on Osea Island in the Blackwater Estuary, Essex, charges £10,000 a week and offers a range of therapy and treatments to its clients for drug and alcohol addiction.

Its other famous patients have included actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Kevin McGee, the late husband of the comedian Matt Lucas.

The 400-acre estate features a beautifully appointed early 20th-century manor house, cottages offering "discreet accommodation", and a sound recording studio that was once used by Bob Marley.

It is owned by Nigel Frieda, a producer for the pop group Sugababes, and opened in 2004 as the first and only island in the world dedicated to the treatment of addiction and mental health problems.

The retreat is understood to have run into difficulties over its treatment of people with psychiatric problems. The Care Quality Commission, which regulates NHS trusts and private clinics, inspected the retreat after receiving allegations that it was treating patients without a licence under the Care Standards Act. Following the inspection, the CQC requested that no new psychiatric patients be admitted pending the outcome of its investigation. Information later came to light that new patients had been admitted and the commission wrote to the retreat asking it to remove its clients and close its doors within a week.

The island is only accessible by road for four hours a day because the causeway that links it to the mainland is covered by the tide at other times. In an emergency, medical assistance can be provided by helicopter – the mode of transport favoured by many of its clients – but this is also understood to worry the CQC.

The Commission lacks the power to force the closure of a clinic or hospital, but if the Causeway Retreat ignores its request and remains open, it is expected to seek a closure order through the courts. Families who have had relatives treated at the retreat are reported to have launched legal action against it.

Last summer, the retreat reported a boom in business from stressed city bankers because of the recession. Brendan Quinlan, the chief executive and a former psychiatric nurse, said bankers comprised 60 per cent of clients, up from 10-12 per cent two years previously.

A 50-year-old female director at a financial services firm in the City, who was interviewed last year about her month at the retreat in November 2008, said the banking crisis had triggered her breakdown.

"I think that tipped me over the edge. I was working even longer [hours] then and drinking a bit more than I should. It was like being a woman in a wolf pack," she said.

Her stay at the retreat triggered a complete change in her lifestyle. Although she returned to her job briefly, she later quit and moved away from London and now manages accounts for a small firm in the North.

The retreat did not respond to requests, by telephone and email, for a comment yesterday. Answering press inquiries last month, Mr Quinlan said the clinic was registered and that it was not doing anything "illegal". The CQC declined to comment yesterday.

The Care Standards Act, which covers independent and private clinics, is to be replaced. From October it will be superseded by new rules which require all clinics, NHS and private, to be registered with the CQC.

Other Causeway clients

*Jonathan Rhys Meyers

The 32-year-old Irish actor spent several weeks at the Causeway in 2008. He has had at least three periods in rehab in his efforts to control his drinking.

*Kevin McGee

The divorced husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas was treated at the Causeway in summer 2008 for his cocaine habit. He hanged himself in 2009.

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