Report flags 'missed opportunities' to stop GP assaults
A leading solicitor representing eight victims of a disgraced doctor jailed for indecently assaulting patients has criticised health officials after a report concluded that an NHS Trust missed opportunities to stop him.
Ally Taft, a personal injury lawyer with Irwin Mitchell in Birmingham, said her clients – who have waited five years for a report into the case – had 'paid a heavy price' after a top level NHS inquiry concluded that St Helens PCT could have acted sooner to stop Dr Roy Murray assaulting female patients.
The GP, from Bromborough, was jailed for five years in 2004 after being found guilty of indecently assaulting patients at his surgery in St Helens.
The report, which has been made public today, was instigated by the NHS North West Strategic Health Authority following allegations that complaints made by women in the 1980s were not investigated properly.
It concluded that there was scope for action against Dr Murray as early as the mid-1980s; that he had been advised to use chaperones in 1987; and that Dr Murray could have been reported to the General Medical Council. But no action was taken and the report highlights a series of failures by the Trust's systems and officials.
Reacting to the report's publication, Ally Taft said: "It is deeply disappointing for the victims that nobody acted sooner. They have paid a heavy price.
"If one of our neighbours knocked on the door in distress and said she'd been sexually assaulted, we'd all know what to do - we'd call the police.
"But for years healthcare professionals in St Helens and the wider area were aware of complaints and concerns but were apparently in doubt about what they were empowered to do. Their failures flew in the face of common sense and their inaction over two decades falls far below mere incompetence."
She added: "Murray's victims have waited for five long years for answers and it seems the issues have still not yet been tackled properly. They have the right to demand full and immediate implementation of all the review recommendations and full assurances that patient protection is being taken seriously in this region and that lessons have truly been learnt."
Ms Taft also confirmed that Murray's victims are now considering whether to bring clams for negligence against the Strategic Health Authority.
Today's report highlights that:
- There were problems within Dr Murray's practice in the late 1980s, with falling patient numbers
- He was advised to use chaperones by the Local Medical Committee in 1987, but again no further action was taken
- A serious failing could have constituted evidence of serious professional misconduct and Dr Murray could have been reported to the General Medical Council in 1987. But he was not
- The complaints system was too complicated and adversarial and support for complainants was limited, making it difficult for patients to question a doctor
- There were no mandatory chaperone policies available, even though it was recommended for Dr Murray
The report also painted a worrying picture of why action was not taken over Dr Murray, flagging three contributory factors:
- Individuals and organisations failed to bring the pieces of information together to form the whole picture
- Individuals believed that they required knowledge of more than one incident before they could take action
- NHS officers believed that certain issues were outside their remit
An initial internal Stage 1 review of the Trust, published in May 2005, made a number of recommendations in order to improve patient safety and included an action plan.
In July 2005, an external Stage 2 review was then set up and today's report says that, in 2006, the review team concluded that they were unable to provide assurances that there would not be a re-occurrence of a case similar to Murray's.
The report confirms that the former St Helen's PCT had made progress implementing the learning review action plan but that there were weaknesses and integrated governance was at an early stage.
Ms Taft said: "The report confirms what we have always thought. That a lack of joined up thinking resulted in Dr Murray being allowed to practise far longer than he should have done and lessons need to be learnt. At the moment we have no confidence that recommendations made in the interim by the PCT would prevent something like this happening again."