In today’s political climate of distrust, dishonesty and lack of integrity, I wonder whether any attention will be given to the harm caused by the cover-up culture in the NHS?
Here is my experience of being a patient at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (DHCFT) and raising a complaint. From that moment, DHCFT treated me as a problem not a patient and hence DHCFT was prepared to go to any lengths to cover up.
In 2013, I was going through tough times and received psychotherapy with a therapist, Brian Denness. But there were a number of problems with my treatment and it was abruptly ended at a time I was most vulnerable.
I raised concerns with DHCFT about my treatment that had not been delivered in line with NHS treatment protocols as set out by NICE. But I found the responses I received from the Trust’s CEO, Steve Trenchard, and the executive director of nursing and patient experience, Carolyn Green, confusing: dismiss, deny, deflect.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO)
Unable to get a meaningful response from DHCFT, in April 2014, I submitted my complaint to the PHSO. An investigation was carried out and the Ombudsman obtained independent clinical advice that led to the Ombudsman drafting a report in my favour. On the Ombudsman, notifying Trenchard of this outcome, the draft report that upheld my complaint was suddenly destroyed and a new draft report was produced that no longer upheld any of my complaint.
I found out that Mr Trenchard was close friends with the Ombudsman’s managing director, Mick Martin. Both had been found guilty in an employment court of covering up to protect professional reputations. I believe they had done exactly the same with my complaint, both being the chief persons responsible for it and with a proven propensity.
The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
I took my complaint to the professional regulator, the UKCP. But I found out that DHCFT intervened and persuaded the UKCP not to carry out any investigation of its own but instead simply accept the (manipulated) report from the PHSO, which it did.
The Clinical Commissioning Group
I turned to the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Hardwick CCG. They closed ranks with DHCFT and agreed with DHCFT to wait for the (manipulated) report from the PHSO and simply uphold that.
The Care Quality Commission
I contacted the Care Quality Commission (CQC). They did not respond. I later found out that Trenchard, DHCFT’s CEO, was a CQC insider and acted as inspection chair for CQC.
I turned to other professional organisations and bodies in my efforts to get my voice heard, however they told me that only DHCFT could deal with my complaint. But DHCFT was doing anything but address my complaint.
I was at rock bottom. I also had an adjustment disorder but was without any support because DHCFT had denied me access to help and were refusing to address my mental health needs. On top of this, DHCFT was refusing to listen to my complaint.
Eventually, in November 2014, I turned to peaceful democratic protest in my attempt to get my voice heard as a last resort after all other measures had failed. I created banners and set up an online petition requesting accountability from DHCFT and an independent investigation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
Shortly after this, Green invited me to a meeting to address my complaint. However, at the meeting, Ms Green refused to address it; she also refused to give me the minute meetings afterwards. Instead, she reported me to the Police for things she alleged I had said at the meeting but which I hadn’t and I was arrested. Ms Green and DHCFT pursued this course of action and I was subsequently charged and convicted of harassment – for being a patient with a complaint.
I have since discovered (via FOI requests) that DHCFT had gone to considerable effort to achieve my arrest, and held three meetings with the police at which Green reported that she wanted me to stop complaining. The records also show that DHCFT kept labelling me with different things at different times to suit them. They told the police that I do not have any mental health issues, which meant I could be prosecuted without a court diversion, but they told the investigating bodies that I do, which served to undermine me and my complaint.
Sometime after my arrest, Ms Green rang me and offered me money on condition I removed my online petition that called for an independent investigation. If I were to do that, then DHCFT wouldn’t pursue the prosecution. I told Green I couldn’t remove the petition until DHCFT took accountability and responded to my complaint about their substandard treatment to safeguard all patients.
DHCFT refused to comply with their disclosure obligations to CPS. Eventually, the Magistrates Court had to make an order for disclosure but still DHCFT did not comply which put them in contempt of court. The trial was adjourned three times because DHCFT failed to comply with its disclosure obligations. Despite this, the trial went ahead in July 2015 without disclosure.
Astonishingly, at the trial, neither Denness nor Seed nor anyone else from DHCFT gave oral evidence which meant there was no witnesses to cross examination or challenge, contrary to the fundamental tenets of a fair trial. Instead, DHCFT’s carefully crafted statements were read out to the court as ‘fact’. DHCFT falsely told the court that themselves, the Health Ombudsman and the Professional Regulator had investigated my complaint independently and all had found there to be ‘no quibble’ about my treatment.
Because there were no witnesses and no disclosure, the magistrates were disabled from making a full and proper appraisal of the evidence or individuals and yet, based upon DHCFT’s statements ‘of fact’ that could not be challenged, I had to be convicted.
A number of lawyers have reviewed the evidence of this conviction, including a QC. It is the QC’s opinion that it was a ‘malicious prosecution’.
Alison Fuller’s attack
Shortly after this, I began to receive anonymous comments posted under my online petition from Denness’ friend and colleague at Lincolnshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Alison Fuller, another therapist registered with BACP. There were nearly 300 comments in total which were mocking, vile and deeply malicious. Fuller’s aim seemed to be to bully me into removing the petition. Because Ms Fuller had gone to great lengths to conceal her identity, it was down to me to bring her to account in the civil courts which cost me a huge sum in legal fees. The court awarded me most of this in damages and costs. However, Fuller was outraged to have been held to account and has refused to comply with the court order and hasn’t paid a penny.
Clinical negligence claim
I obtained independent expert advice from Dr Chess Denman, one of the country’s leading experts on psychotherapy, that supported a claim of clinical negligence and in 2016 I brought proceedings against DHCFT. The systemic failings identified in Dr Denman’s report mean that all patients at DHCFT are exposed to risk.
I acted as a litigant in person throughout proceedings. DHCFT was represented by a solicitor from Weightmans, Melanie Isherwood. The claim went to trial in summer 2019 and judgment was handed down by HHJ Nigel Godsmark in August 2019. It was dismissed.
DHCFT’s defence strategy was founded upon denying everything and attacking me, the accuser. Their strategy turned the tables onto me, shifting the case away from ‘was their clinical treatment negligent’ to ‘is the patient believable’. DHCFT employed vilifying tactics to stigmatise, malign and undermine me and paint me in as negative a light as possible to destroy me, my credibility, and reputation.
DHCFT deliberately made much of my criminal record, thereby creating a natural bias within the judge toward me. Just as they had done in the Magistrates Court, they falsely emphasised to the Judge that the Ombudsman, the professional regulator and themselves had all investigated my complaint but none had upheld it, therefore the allegations of negligence could have no basis and I must be deluded.
Ms Isherwood deliberately manipulated court directions and Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) to obtain advantage and prevent a fair process from taking place. The main areas of procedural irregularity and misconduct were as follows:
- DHCFT’s lead expert witness, Dr Michael Drayton of Opus Performance, lacks expert credentials in NHS psychotherapy; he describes himself as an ‘organisational consultant and executive coach’ who specialises in ‘executive coaching, workplace relationship building…’
- Dr Drayton misled the court on his expertise under oath. He told the court he works in ‘full time clinical practice at 8, St James’ Square, London’. However, Dr Drayton’s evidence was proven to be completely false: 8 St James’ Square confirmed that it is a business hire space and Dr Drayton only attends ‘once every one to two months’ for a couple of hours for business purposes.
- Dr Drayton wrote three psychological expert reports for the court without meeting me or having access to my evidence, which is in breach of his obligations to the court to be impartial, independent and objective.
- Isherwood manipulated court directions so as to follow them in reverse. This meant she obtained my expert reports on breach upfront and she then drafted carefully tailored witness statements to deny and rebut all the allegations. She then gave these tailored statements to her lead expert, Dr Drayton, to base his response to the allegations on. Of course, he disagreed with all the allegations of breach because he based his opinion exclusively on statements carefully drafted in 2018 to deny and rebut each of them but which presented a different version of events to those under examination in 2012/13.
- DHCFT’s second expert witness, Professor Daniel T Wilcox, is an American qualified forensic psychologist with no expertise in either psychotherapy or the NHS. Once again, Isherwood withheld all my evidence and records from him so his opinions could only be partial, she even refused him access to the contemporaneous records.
- There are two reports from Prof Wilcox: a ‘final’ one dated 25 August 2017 and an ‘updated’ one dated 14 March 2018. The March 2018 report is fundamentally different to the August 2017 report. Five new pages have been added that make legal argument; they are mean spirited and repeat over and over again that I am ‘duplicitous’. But Professor Wilcox did not know that his final report of August 2017 had changed.
- Professor Wilcox failed to provide an explanation of how his report of August 2017 had changed without him knowing. His August report is not very damaging to my claim; his report of March 2018 is. There is no person who could have tampered with Professor Wilcox’s expert report other than Isherwood.
Acting in person I did my best at court, but the judge, HHJ Nigel Godsmark, made no attempt to see fair play and he conducted proceedings in an extraordinarily irregular manner. After the defendant had given their oral closing submissions, the judge prevented me from making my own oral closing submissions. Instead, he told me to submit my closing submissions in writing and he took them away out of court. This means that the submissions I made and the evidence I relied upon were excluded from public record.
Just as the judge prevented me from making oral submissions that kept my evidence out of the public arena, he also excluded much of my evidence from his judgement. He makes no mention whatsoever of material evidence; he presents a distorted and inaccurate version of events that, in many areas, is not supported by any contemporaneous evidence at all and he closed his eyes to the numerous breaches of duty on the parts of Ms Isherwood and her hired gun experts.
In court, I tried to query Dr Drayton’s absence of expert credentials in NHS psychotherapy; find out how Professor Wilcox’s report had changed into a fundamentally different one without him knowing it and highlight the unreliability and inaccuracies of both expert reports – pertinent issues to raise in any claim of negligence, including my own claim. But for doing this, the judge attacked me with vitriolic criticisms while at the same time excluding from the judgement the evidence upon which these allegations were based. It seems to me that HHJ Godsmark was more concerned with hiding the truth and protecting the public face of DHCFT than truth and justice.
Regarding the false evidence Dr Drayton gave to the court under oath about his current practice, the judge stated ‘I regard his initial acceptance of the term ‘full time clinical practice’ as an inadvertent slip’. It is inconceivable that an expert giving evidence to a court would make a ‘slip’ of this fundamental nature to a very direct, clear and simple question about whether he is or is not in full time practice and then to continue with this error when asked where he practices from. Far from being in full time clinical practice, Dr Drayton is not in clinical practice at all.
Regarding Professor Wilcox’s report, simply states: ‘For my part I accept Professor Wilcox’s evidence. I accept that he wrote the March 2018 report following further reflection upon the case. I find nothing sinister in the evolution of his thought processes about the case.’ However, the judge excluded the explanation Prof Wilcox gave in his oral evidence under oath that he updated the 25 August 2017 in response to Dr Denman’s report, which didn’t exist in March 2018. The judge excluded the evidence that twice after the March 2018 report had been served Prof Wilcox continued to refer to the August 2017 report as his ‘final’ report in court documents, not knowing it had changed into a fundamentally different one, and expressly failed to provide an explanation for this, including at trial.
In breach of civil procedure rules, Professor Wilcox did not set out his instructions in his report. In each of Prof Wilcox’s subsequent sworn court documents and again at trial under oath he gave widely different accounts of what his instructions were. It was strange, therefore, that the judge felt able to decide for himself what Professor Wilcox was instructed to report on. Everyone is confused as to what Professor Wilcox’s instructions were, even Professor Wilcox, and it was wrong for the judge to make them up.
The judge bizarrely stated that Dr Drayton’s evidence was ‘impartial.’ This is a perverse statement to make when it was impossible for Dr Drayton’s evidence to be impartial because Dr Drayton had never met me or had access to any of my evidence, which is in violation of Dr Drayton’s duties to the court.
The judge’s finding that Dr Drayton is a ‘properly qualified expert’ in NHS psychotherapy is perverse, even a cursory glance at Dr Drayton’s cv demonstrates a complete lack of expert credentials. What is even more perverse is that HHJ Godsmark preferred the opinions of Dr Drayton, a businessman and cruise ship entertainer, over those of Dr Denman, an NHS Medical Director and a practising psychotherapist.
Dr Drayton claims to be an experienced court witness and is used repeatedly by the same corporate legal firms, including Weightmans. It seems a tactic that Dr Drayton uses to defend his instructing party in return for huge fees, is to launch spiteful and contemptuous personal character attacks on the claimant to undermine and discredit them.
The judge, HHJ Nigel Godsmark, has left out material evidence; his judgment is not consistent with the contemporaneous records or evidence and he conducted the trial in violation of judicial laws and with extraordinary procedural irregularity. The judicial system requires that courts must not only be impartial and independent; they must also be seen to be so. Thus, an apprehension of bias, if reasonable, would entitle an aggrieved litigant to have the adverse decision set aside.
I lodged an appeal. My appeal was dismissed without a hearing. The grounds of my appeal were not addressed.
I reported Ms Isherwood’s conduct to her professional regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The SRA has been criticised time and time again for its eagerness to protect its own kind. Predictably, the SRA refused to investigate.
I reported DHCFT’s experts Dr Drayton and Prof Wilcox to their professional regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Although the HCPC process has nothing to do with her, Ms Isherwood intervened in the process to persuade HCPC not to investigate.
This has been an exceptionally bad period in my life and I acknowledge I made mistakes, but I am not a bad person and no patient deserves this treatment by the NHS.
In answer to my original question, given the publicly available evidence and the number of patients who have contacted me with their own stories of victimisation by DHCFT, I can’t help feeling DHFCT’s culture of cover up will persist and management will continue to crush patients who raise concerns about harmful treatment into silence.
An earlier version of this article was published on Patient Complaint DHCFT.
Victoria Martindale is former patient at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust .
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