In other blog posts I have stressed how staff are very rarely disciplined, yet alone removed, from the mental health services in north Wales, no matter how serious their misconduct or how much evidence is produced demonstrating this. This seems to be true of staff in the rest of the NHS in north Wales as well. To illustrate this, I will recount here the terrifying tale of Stephen Gallagher and Alan Roberts. My encounters with these two men occurred when they were both employed as senior nurses at Ysbyty Gwynedd when it was run by the North West Wales NHS Trust and Martin Jones was the CEO and Elfed Roberts was the Chairman.
For substantial periods of time I was left with no access to healthcare despite being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (Other posts on this blog will describe the wilful failure of Martin Jones to enable me to access care and treatment despite the best efforts of my lawyers – the Trust eventually admitted (in a meeting from which I was excluded) a ‘serious failure’ to provide care. Unbelievably the serious failures simply continued even after this admission.) Like many other patients whom the Trust had flatly refused to treat, on a number of occasions I tried to get help from the A&E dept in Ysbyty Gwynedd. This turned out to be a high risk strategy.
One such occasion was in October 2006. My father had died a few hours previously, my moods had been unstable and I was feeling suicidal. So I went to A&E to ask for an assessment. I was met by a phenomenally aggressive Scottish nurse whom I later found out to be a Stephen Gallagher. I had never met Gallagher before, yet he flatly refused to assess or treat me. He told me that if I was suicidal I should be ‘in a cell’. He shouted and raged at me, in full view of other waiting patients, and yelled at me that he was going to call the police. Other staff on duty in A&E at the time witnessed all this and none of them said a word. They continued with their ‘duties’ as though Gallagher behaving like this was entirely routine. Throughout Gallagher’s extraordinary performance, I sat quietly on a chair in A&E, refusing to move, hoping that I would be eventually be seen by someone rather more rational than this man. That didn’t happen and Gallagher called the police, although I had broken no law. Gallagher maintained that I had been threatening and abusive. Despite a whole A&E dept watching the events, I noted that Gallagher didn’t actually produce any witnesses to my alleged threats and abuse. The police were friendly and a good deal nicer than Gallagher and took me over to the part of the hospital that housed the on-call GP service. Where once more I was refused treatment, although by now the police had left so they didn’t witness this.
There was then an attempt to throw me off the hospital premises entirely. I was sitting quietly in a public waiting area – it was a weekend, so there were very few people around, just a receptionist and an elderly couple sitting on the seats near me – when a man wearing boots more usually seen on labourers approached me and told me to get out. He did not have an identity badge on him and was not wearing any sort of identifiable uniform. I asked him who he was and he told me that he ‘was in charge’. I told him that this was not actually a very informative answer, but I still wasn’t given a name or role. He simply repeated that he was ‘in charge of the whole hospital’ and started kicking the chairs around me with his substantial boots, saying things like ‘I’m in charge of these chairs’ and ‘I’m in charge of the fire extinguishers’ and other nonsensical statements. He became so aggressive that the elderly couple next to me left as quickly as it was possible for them to do so and I noticed that the receptionist had disappeared too. I was alone in a waiting area with a man who was behaving very oddly. After he told me that he was in charge of the chairs and fire-extinguishers I told him that may well be true but I doubted that he was in charge of things like neurosurgery. (Although I very much doubt that there was any neurosurgery at all at Ysbyty Gwynedd – the hospital was in such dire straits that even the NHS wouldn’t have trusted it with neurosurgery.) My comment made him very irate and he got a lot louder and a lot nastier and carried on kicking things, getting closer and closer to me, circling around my chair. At one point he accused me of ‘impersonating a GP’. I asked him what on earth he was talking about and he replied that I’d told someone that I was Dr Sally Baker. I told him that was true, that I had a PhD so I was entitled to use that title – at no point had I ever suggested that I was a GP. He responded by saying ‘you’re not a fucking doctor’. I offered to show him my driving licence as identity – at this point he completely lost it. I realised that whoever this man was he was clearly not rational and seemed to be getting dangerously near to hitting me – I left the hospital quickly out of self-preservation.
Over the next few days I contacted my lawyer regarding these events and my friends also became aware of what had happened (my friends were always very supportive and did the job of the mental health services for the substantial periods of time that the mental health services decided that they were not going to do what they were paid for.) I found out that the first aggressive Scottish nurse whom I had encountered was a Stephen Gallagher – and that the complete madman in labourer’s boots was, unbelievably, a ‘nurse practitioner’ called Alan Roberts.
I – and later my lawyers – made representation about Gallagher’s and Roberts’s conduct to Martin Jones. Martin made the usual smears that were made whenever I (or anyone else) raised complaint about NHS staff – that I had been ‘threatening’ and ‘abusive’ and that’s why poor intimidated Gallagher had called the police. My lawyer then made Martin aware that there were CCTV cameras in the A&E dept (not to mention scores of witnesses – and that I had not been charged with any offence by the police), CCTV cameras that would reveal what had actually gone on in A&E that day. Martin then wrote back saying that the CCTV tapes had been destroyed. My lawyer then correlated times, dates and other relevant information and pointed out to Martin that the CCTV tapes had not been destroyed until after I had made complaint about Gallagher and after he had made his allegations about me. Somehow I don’t think that CCTV recording showed me being aggressive or threatening at all – I think that it recorded Gallagher abusing a patient in full view of the whole dept with no other staff intervening. Despite a large amount of correspondence passing between Martin Jones, Angela Hopkins (the then Director of Nursing), my lawyer and I, no light was ever shed on the mystery of the destroyed CCTV tapes, or Gallagher’s appalling behaviour – and as for Alan Roberts and his terrifying aggression, there was simply silence from the hospital. Furthermore, after my lawyer requested the medical records relating to the interaction between Gallagher and me, we were told that the records couldn’t be found. And indeed they never were found – although we did discover a document written by Gallagher claiming that I ‘had held a nurse hostage’. I have never ‘held a nurse hostage’ and had never even been accused of such a thing until Gallagher decided to write this down. No amount of correspondence with the North West Wales NHS Trust ever shed any light on this very serious completely fallacious allegation that Gallagher had made about me. The whole incident with Gallagher and Alan Roberts was never ever investigated – the way that NHS complaints were investigated at the time involved a ‘lay-reviewer’. This type of investigation has since been deemed by successive Governments as being very tortuous and highly unsatisfactory, with evidence that ‘lay-reviewers’ were frequently little more than stooges. It was interesting therefore to note that in this case the lay-reviewer stated that he was unable to conduct an investigation because Martin Jones refused to co-operate with the investigation. (Martin’s obstructiveness and unpleasantness during all this will be detailed elsewhere on this blog.)
Interestingly enough, in the spring of 2008, Stephen Gallagher hit the national media. He was being hailed as a hero in his capacity as a Territorial Army medical officer. Claims were made about Stephen Gallagher saving the life of a ten year old boy in Afghanistan eg. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_west/7288128.stm Further enquiries revealed that the only role Gallagher had actually played in this medical drama was to make a telephone call. I was told that it was the authorities at the North West Wales NHS Trust who had given this story to the press, not the Territorial Army. Issues raised regarding confidentiality and ethics (photographs of the boy’s relatives and X Rays of the boy had been released to the press) were not addressed.
Stephen Gallagher was to touch my life again. I continued to encounter serious problems in accessing healthcare. In June 2008 I was once more experiencing severe mood swings. I didn’t dare go to A&E in person because I had continued to experience much harassment and unpleasantness from staff employed by the local NHS and indeed from Martin Jones himself. So one night, feeling very bad, instead I rang A&E hoping for advice. I gave my name and was put through to none other than Stephen Gallagher. Who slammed the phone down. I rang again, another member of staff answered and when they realised it was me, the phone was slammed down again. This happened six or seven times. I then rang a friend and her husband to tell them what was happening. They rang A&E – only to be met with rudeness and hostility and to be told that ‘there were policies and procedures for dealing with Ms Baker’. They were then accused of ‘harassing and manipulating’ A&E staff. At this point my friend revealed that she actually worked in the hospital herself, was appalled at what was going on and the way that she had been responded to and would be making a complaint – Gallagher’s response was to threaten her position in the hospital. It was poignant that the day on which all this happened was the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Whilst Gallagher et al were slamming phones down on me and abusing and threatening my friends, TV programmes were being screened ‘celebrating’ the NHS and its achievements. Clearly a nurse carrying on like Gallagher was exactly what Nye Bevan dreamed of. I spent the night at the house of two other friends because as usual it was clearly unsafe for me to approach the NHS for help that night. (I was later told by the friend who had been threatened by Gallagher that when she went into work the next day she was met by a posse of managers and subjected to a full-scale interrogation regarding how long she had been friends with me and how did she know me. It was alleged that I was ‘using staff’ to ‘get at’ the senior managers of the Trust. Gallagher’s behaviour was not an issue up for discussion.)
As ever, I then raised my concerns with the delightful Martin Jones and Elfed Roberts regarding events on that night. As ever, I got nowhere, although this time I couldn’t be accused of being harassing, abusive etc because I hadn’t even been in the hospital. And two members of the public had ended up being insulted and threatened by Gallagher. I then asked for copies of the policies and procedures for ‘dealing with’ me that Gallagher had referred to over the phone when speaking to my friend. Martin denied that any such policy existed. I then managed to acquire a copy of a document that claimed to be a ‘procedure’ for dealing with me. Interestingly enough it referred to me being ‘potentially violent but unlikely to be so’. This phrase encapsulates the idiocy and slander that is inherent in the mental health services in north Wales. Somebody is either violent or they are not. And I have never been ‘violent’ and no-one can ever demonstrate that I have been. (My lawyer had a wonderful phrase for the constant supply of very serious but totally unfounded allegations that the mental health services made about me – ‘institutional fairy tales’.) As ever, no-one was able to shed light on this libellous document (or Martin’s lie when he denied that it existed) – although I was told that it had been ‘approved’ by a Dr Pauline Cutting and the notorious Angela Hopkins.
I then discovered something else. That Stephen Gallagher had previously been the subject of a complaint by a doctor, that Gallagher had been reprimanded and that it was concluded that his ‘competence and integrity’ could not be relied upon. So despite this, that hospital continued to employ him in a front-line role, unsupervised, dealing with sensitive situations. And when I subsequently made complaints about him, the hospital was defensive and aggressive, CCTV evidence was destroyed and there was no appropriate investigation even when two members of the public had been insulted and threatened by Gallagher. This complaint regarding Gallagher was never investigated either – after getting nowhere with Martin Jones and Elfed Roberts, I eventually wrote to Edwina Hart, the Minister for Health. I understand that Edwina wrote to the North West Wales NHS Trust requesting that they investigate my complaint. They ignored her and indeed continued to ignore her request that my complaint be investigated until the North West Wales NHS Trust was abolished in 2009.
It didn’t get any better though. Alan Roberts then hit the local media. He was standing trial at Caernarfon Magistrates Court, accused of assaulting and injuring an 88 year old female patient. The incident had occurred in 2010 and had only ever come to light because another nurse had witnessed it and was so horrified by what she saw that she blew the whistle. (A friend and I went to the court and sat in the public gallery. As we left the Court, Alan Roberts shook his fist at us.) It was revealed in Court that during the dispute with Alan Roberts, the elderly lady had asked for the police to be called. Roberts had replied ‘I am the police’. (This sounded vaguely familiar – ‘I’m in charge of the whole hospital…’) Roberts was found guilty, but the Court was told that he was worried about losing his pension and that he had a son studying nursing at University whom he needed to support, so he would be appealing against this conviction. Roberts then appealed – and incredibly enough in 2011 won, on the grounds that although he had used ‘unlawful violence’ against the old lady, it could not be proved that he had caused her ‘actual bodily harm’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-13983939
I note that Roberts had claimed that the old lady had assaulted him, but Judge Niclas Parry made a point of saying that the Court did not accept this. By the time that Roberts won his appeal the old lady had died, so wasn’t around to give evidence. (And no doubt if the old lady had dared complain or contradict Roberts’s version of events, she would find that whereas she had to pay for her own lawyers or at best be eligible for a very limited amount of Legal Aid, Roberts would receive the full free backing of his union and have access to unlimited lawyers funded by the NHS. I have found that the NHS spares no expense when fighting patients and will carry on throwing money at lawyers whilst still behaving appallingly until the patient simply runs out of money if not energy). After winning his appeal, Roberts announced his intention to apply to return to his job. And no doubt Ysbyty Gwynedd were quite happy to comply with that request.
Stephen Gallagher appeared in the local media again in 2011. In December 2010 a body had been found in the Bible Gardens in Bangor. It transpired that this was the body of Patrick Cleary, a man with a history of alcohol and drug problems. He had previously attended the Hergest Unit but was advised to contact his GP or mental health team. He then attended A&E – where he encountered Stephen Gallagher. He was found dead hours later. (‘Gallagher doesn’t have much luck with patients does he’ observed Brown upon hearing about this matter.) At this time, stories of desperate patients being refused help by the Hergest Unit and A&E were legion – the same patients also often found that no assistance would be forthcoming from the community mental health teams. The story of Mr Cleary was depressingly familiar. No need to worry though – the coroner Dewi Pritchard Jones had stated that the system had not failed Mr Cleary – although he’d died. And Gallagher had stated that he had told Mr Cleary that he had ‘limited options to help him’ (!). I note that Mr Cleary’s grieving relatives ‘thanked the doctors and nurses who had tried to help him’. I suspect that Mr Cleary’s family had absolutely no idea how those doctors and nurses regularly conducted themselves as they ‘tried to help’ patients.
I have been told that staff at the Betsi are reading this blog. If anyone has any further information regarding these two unhinged, dangerous, dishonest nurses – for example are they still employed in the NHS in north Wales? – I would be most interested to hear it.