Rehab retreat of the stars faces prosecution by watchdog

Health Editor,Jeremy Laurance
Friday 24 September 2010 00:00 BST

A private rehabilitation clinic which charged up to £10,000 a week to people with drink and drug problems is facing criminal prosecution by a health regulator.

Amy Winehouse was among celebrities who beat a path to the door of The Causeway Retreat on Osea Island in the Blackwater Estuary, Essex, which offered a range of treatments to its clients – until it was ordered to close by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) last April.

Other patients have included the actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Kevin McGee, late ex-husband of the comedian Matt Lucas.

The 400-acre estate is owned by Nigel Frieda, a producer for the pop group Sugababes and brother of John Frieda of the hair and shampoo dynasty. It 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.

The island is only accessible by road for four hours a day, when the causeway linking it to the mainland is not covered by the tide. In an emergency, medical assistance can be provided by helicopter – the mode of transport favoured by many of its clients.

The retreat opened in 2004 as the first and only island in the world dedicated to the treatment of addiction and mental health problems. But last year the CQC received allegations that it was treating patients with psychiatric problems, and employing doctors and nurses, beyond the provisions of its licence under the Care Standards Act. The CQC requested that no new psychiatric patients be admitted while it was investigating. When the request was ignored, the CQC ordered that it be closed.

Today, the CQC is to lay criminal charges at Essex magistrates' court in Harlow against 27 Management, which runs the retreat, and Brendan Quinlan, its director and chief executive. The charges relate to breaches under the Care Standards Act in relation to the provision of medical services without the necessary registration.

All NHS trusts, private hospitals and clinics which provide medical services must be registered with the CQC, which has the right to inspect them in the interests of patient safety. Not all drug and alcohol services have to be registered – it depends on the type of services being provided. The Causeway Retreat argued it was not providing registrable services, whereas the CQC insisted that it was providing mental health and detoxification services and that these were registrable.

The CQC declined to comment yesterday.

In 2009, the retreat reported a boom in business from City bankers due to the recession. Mr Quinlan, a former psychiatric nurse, said bankers comprised 60 per cent of its 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.

An emailed request for a response from The Causeway was answered by lawyers who declined to comment "until the proceedings have concluded". Answering press inquiries earlier this year, Mr Quinlan said the clinic was registered and that it was not doing anything illegal.

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