Culture of the “all-powerful” consultant allowed abuse to go undetected

Two psychiatrists who indecently assaulted women in the hospital
where they worked avoided detection for many years because of a
culture where the consultant was “all-powerful”,
writes Sally Gillen.

Michael Haslam was convicted of four counts of indecent assault in
2003 and William Kerr was convicted of one count of indecent
assault in 2000. Both were consultants at the Clifton Hospital in
York at the time of the assaults on patients.

In an independent inquiry report released this week, health
professionals are criticised for ignoring “warning
bells” and dismissing rumours about abuse of female patients
in the hospital.

Failed management and communication, as well as poor record keeping
are also condemned in the report.

It says patients’ concerns “fell on deaf ears,”
adding there are many more alleged incidents by former patients
than the five counts of sexual assault Haslam and Kerr were
convicted on.

Former patients made 67 disclosures about Kerr’s behaviour to
NHS staff but not one prompted an investigation. The first was made
in 1965 the year he joined the hospital and the previous year Kerr
had left a job in Northern Ireland over allegations of
inappropriate sexual conduct.

At least 10 allegations were made against Haslam.

Now allegations are handled differently compared with the 1970s and
1980s, says the report, adding “we feel the climate is
changing and improving but patient safety demands more needs to be

Its recommendations include that the Department of Health should
publish a policy and guidance on handling allegations of sexualised
behaviour and mental health services should provide information to
patients on what to expect from a consultation with a mental health


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