Poor management enabled a male mental health nurse to have inappropriate sexual contact with at least 23 vulnerable service users, an NHS London report said yesterday.
The capital’s strategic health authority found that David Britten had “abused not just these women but also his position of professional trust”, as it published a report into his conduct over a 20-year period.
However, the two-year investigation found that while NHS bosses were unaware of his abuse and that Britten was “a skilled and practiced manipulator”, there were “many indicators of his poor practice and boundary violations which could have been responded to differently”.
Britten, whose current whereabouts are unknown, worked at the eating disorders service at Gordon Hospital, central London, from 1980, and became manager of the Peter Dally clinic in Westminster on its opening in 1996, a position he held until 2001.
It was only after Britten was formally dismissed on a separate matter by the then Brent, Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust (BKCW) that the extent of his sexual conduct towards service users, ranging from inappropriate remarks to full sexual relationships, came to light.
This was despite three internal inquiries being held into Britten and the Peter Dally clinic in 1998, 2000 and 2001. The first, conducted by the then Riverside Mental Health Trust, followed complaints by two patients that Britten touched them inappropriately, but the allegations were not proven.
The second inquiry – into concerns over multi-disciplinary working at the clinic – was conducted by BKCW, which took over the service in 1999, without any knowledge of the 1998 inquiry.
Besides management failings, the yesterday’s report said that Britten’s abuse went undetected for so long because of the “understandable reluctance of these extremely vulnerable women to speak out against someone upon whom they were dependent for their care”.
It recommended that the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust – which currently runs eating disorders services in the area – scrutinise its internal investigation procedures and consider the need to adopt appropriate risk management procedures for services dealing with vulnerable patients.
It also urged NHS London to ensure that trusts put in place procedures to ensure that whenever there is a reorganisation in the NHS that former trusts hand over information to incoming management.
But it said that a new clinic had opened in 2002 to replace the Peter Dally – the Vincent Square clinic – where “policies, prcedures and change in ethos provide a significantly improved and safer service”.
The Metropolitan Police have investigated Britten twice – the second in the light of evidence unearthed by the independent investigation – but have not uncovered enough information on which to prosecute.
The report added that the police will investigate him again if fresh complaints are made or new evidence produced by any of the 23 women.