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Times & Star
Failings that led to the downfall of Mind in West Cumbria
By Lucy Jenkinson
August 26, 2019

Psychiatrist Aliveni Ramanujam

Psychiatrist Aliveni Ramanujam

The true extent of failings within a West Cumbrian mental health charity which has been forced to close have now been revealed.

A child sex offender and a shamed former doctor who had been struck off by the General Medical Council were among those involved with Mind in West Cumbria.

It has also been claimed that complaints were not dealt with appropriately by the charity’s former chairman Dr Brian Campbell.

Lee Visick of Workington, a former director of Mind in West Cumbria from October 2015 until April 2016, was convicted of a string of child sex offences in February 2017 – some of which had been committed while he was in the leading team – although there is no suggestion that the charity knew of his offending at the time.

Aliveni Ramanujam, an ex-doctor who was working as a community support worker for Mind in West Cumbria, had been struck off in 2016 for serious misconduct.

Visick was found guilty of attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity in January 2013 and three counts of making indecent images of children; and one count of possessing real still images. The indecent images offences were committed between 2012 and 2016.

A medical practitioners’ tribunal found Ms Ramanujam had been dishonest and misleading while working as a doctor in forensic psychiatry at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Ms Ramanujam was removed from the GMC register after cutting and pasting other clinicians’ patient notes into her NHS trust’s computer system. The tribunal also found she had written a prescription after her supervisor had told her not to until an agreement had been reached with the GMC about the level of prescribing allowed. She had been suspended from her role in 2012 for dishonesty after she had plagiarised written assignments while completing a distance learning course in cognitive behavioural practice.

Speaking of Visick’s offences, Dr Campbell said: “As soon as that came to light he came off.”

Dr Campbell said he was not responsible for Visick’s recruitment. He also said he was aware of Ms Ramanujam’s background but that she was already volunteering when he took over as chairman.

“What happened was she wasn’t confident in the English language. She copied someone’s homework off the net. If I had a pound for every student who copied homework I would be a millionaire.

“That’s not great but it’s not the most heinous crime. She wasn’t convicted of malpractice towards patients. Does that mean she can never volunteer for anything?

“She wasn’t working as a doctor. She volunteered for us and she was great. She had a lot of relevant background. She had the ability to support vulnerable people.”

Dr Campbell added: “We don’t get a lot of help from national Mind. Every three years we do an audit. They then came back with things saying we weren’t doing this, we weren’t doing that. To some extent national Mind got it wrong. They were fairly trivial criticisms.

“When you’re a little organisation with little money you support the people who need you, not tick boxes for national Mind. There were issues, we were just so busy. Certainly nobody was put at risk, that’s absolutely for sure.”

The director of another local mental health organisation has spoken out about other issues within Mind in West Cumbria, which include allegedly blocking complaints. Jo Haigh, of Always Another Way Ltd, said: “I work with Carlisle and Furness Mind but I will not work with Mind in the west. I set up Always Another Way to fill the gap because people were falling through the net.Our clients are people that have had problems with Mind. I’ve helped clients make complaints to the charity.

“There were loads of complaints going to Brian Campbell but they were stopped before they got to the trustees. Many of my clients got nowhere until they went high enough up to be listened.

“We wrote to the trustees because we were getting nowhere with the complaints. They knew nothing about the complaints. Once they found out they were very supportive. My heart goes out to the trustees because they didn’t know.”

However, Dr Campbell said this was not true. “Every complaint that was made while I was chairman was dealt with by the trustees.”

Len Davies, a former trustee, of Mind in West Cumbria told the Times & Star there were a number of resignations from the board over the concerns they had after being made aware of the complaints and the history of Ms Ramanujam.

Mrs Haigh said she had also approached Mind in West Cumbria with a project idea before setting up Always Another Way Ltd. But she said her plans were later shut down when Dr Campbell realised she had used mental health services herself in the past.

“They wouldn’t work with me. He thought service users should be nowhere near service delivery. He wanted me to go and make jigsaws.”

However, Dr Campbell denied the claims.

He said: “That’s certainly not true. We worked with people with mental health issues all the time. It gives an added dimension.

“You can’t just work with everybody. I can’t think why we wouldn’t work with them because they had a previous mental health issue.

“I don’t think we refused to work with anyone.”

Mrs Haigh added: “Myself and other organisations have set up because of problems with Mind in West Cumbria. We all struggle to get funding because Mind support more people and cover a large circulation.

“We know the need is now going to be greater. I would love to be able to find money out of thin air to take on all the service users.”I urge people not to lose faith in Mind in general. The sub groups are individual. Carlisle and Barrow are fantastic. They are still there. It’s just the Mind in west service that is having issues.”

The national Mind charity’s response:

Amy Franklin, associate director of networks at Mind, said: “We are aware of the serious concerns raised about Mind in West Cumbria. We conducted a quality review in March of this year, which included checking they had robust policies and procedures in place and were meeting minimum standards in areas such as finance, governance, safeguarding, workplace wellbeing, data protection and handling complaints. We also spoke to staff, trustees, volunteers and service users.

“Local Minds who do not meet the minimum standards of our quality system are given the opportunity to improve. It became clear in the weeks following the quality review that Mind in West Cumbria weren’t going to be able to do what was needed. We therefore took the decision to remove them from our network and, given the serious nature of our concerns, we recommended that the chair step down and that the organisation close altogether.

“We take the allegations extremely seriously and have notified the Charity Commission, the General Medical Council and the local safeguarding team, who may decide to investigate. We want to stress that we are not aware of any specific risks to the safety of service users or staff or any incidents where anyone has been harmed. If we were – or if any incidents of this kind come to light in future – we have very clear procedures in place that include reporting incidents to the police and local safeguarding teams.

“This is a very sad and difficult time for service users, volunteers, staff and trustees at Mind in West Cumbria and our priority is making sure people with mental health problems get the help and support they need. We are doing everything possible to make sure current users of Mind in West Cumbria’s services are able to access support from local services and other local Minds.”