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Professional Expert Disqualified
March 17, 2012 permalink
Further to the story of professional experts, Britain is moving to revoke the credentials of Dr George Hibbert, who condemned hundreds of parents as unfit.
The doctor who broke up families: Psychiatrist who damned hundreds as 'unfit parents' faces GMC probe
- Dr George Hibbert could be struck off over his conclusions that hundreds of parents had ‘personality disorders’
- Millionaire is now being investigated over shocking suggestions he distorted the assessments to fit the view of social services
- Lib Dem MP writes to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke demanding a full parliamentary inquiry
A leading psychiatrist faces extraordinary claims he deliberately misdiagnosed parents with mental disorders – decisions which meant their children were taken away from them.
Dr George Hibbert faces being struck off over his conclusions that hundreds had ‘personality disorders’ after assessing them at his private family centre.
He was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by social services for the reports which tore children from their parents – many of them young mothers.
He is now being investigated over shocking suggestions he distorted the assessments to fit the view of social services.
In one case, he is alleged to have wrongly diagnosed a ‘caring’ new mother – named only as Miss A – with bipolar disorder because her local authority wanted the baby adopted.
After being confronted with this allegation, Dr Hibbert offered to surrender his licence to practise as a doctor rather than face a General Medical Council inquiry.
But his request has been rejected by the GMC which says there are still ‘unresolved concerns regarding his fitness to practise’. He will now face a full fitness to practise hearing.
Yesterday John Hemming MP, who has raised concerns about Dr Hibbert in Parliament, described the claims as shocking.
The Lib Dem MP – alerted by a whistle-blower – said he had since spoken to ‘three or four’ other families who said the same had happened to them.
He has written to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke demanding a full parliamentary inquiry.
Mr Hemming said: ‘He is someone about whom a number of people have complained. I am told that at least one person has refused to work for him because of what she saw as his unethical provision of reports to suit the demands of local authorities.
‘Much of the decision making in care proceedings rests on reports from experts such as Dr Hibbert,’ he told Parliament.
He added that supposedly independent experts such as Dr Hibbert, 59, were often little more than ‘the hired gun of the local authority’.
The lack of transparency over such experts was leading to ‘thousands of miscarriages of justice in care proceedings’.
Earlier this week, a study for the Family Justice Council revealed how life-changing decisions about the care of children are routinely being made on the basis of flawed evidence. A fifth of ‘experts’ who advise the family courts are unqualified.
Dr Hibbert charged local authorities £6,000 a week for every family in his care and £210 an hour just to read documents such as medical records.
By 2007 his company, Assessment in Care, was making a profit of around £460,000 a year from his lucrative arrangement with social services.
He is now worth more than £2.7million. Last night a black Porsche Turbo, thought to be worth around £120,000, and a grey Porsche 911 Carrera, worth around £80,000, were parked on the gravel driveway outside his £500,000 country cottage.
A former honorary lecturer at Oxford University, who has previously advised the government on care assessments, Dr Hibbert left the NHS to set up his private assessment centre in 2000.
Since then, hundreds of parents in contact with social services – usually mothers and babies – have been referred to his centre to be assessed.
Concerns were first raised in 2007, when mother Miss A complained that Dr Hibbert had wrongly diagnosed her with a bipolar disorder.
One consultant psychiatrist accused Dr Hibbert of having ‘no evidence’ for some of his claims and of deliberately ‘exaggerating’ and ‘misrepresenting’ aspects of the woman’s behaviour.
Her report is among a number of documents being examined by the GMC with regards to Dr Hibbert.
Miss A, who has seen her son just a few times since, said Dr Hibbert was ‘corrupt and evil.’
‘Nothing will ever make up for what he has done to me and my child,’ Miss A said. ‘I want to make sure this man is exposed and that he can never do this to anybody else.’
In a letter sent to Miss A, a GMC investigations officer confirmed Dr Hibbert ‘has now applied for voluntary erasure from the medical register’.
The letter continued: ‘He has no intention of returning to clinical practice in the future.’
However, the GMC officer concluded it was in the ‘public interest’ for his request to be denied ‘in view of the nature of the performance allegations and in the view of the conduct concerns.’
He has not been available for comment at his two-storey detached cottage in the small village of Blunsdon near Swindon. His assessment centre next to his home appeared to be closed.
A spokesman for Dr Hibbert at the Medical Protection Society, the indemnity organisation for doctors, said professional confidentiality meant Dr Hibbert was ‘unable to comment on allegations raised in relation to care of a patient’.
Paul Grant, of Bernard Chill & Axtell Solicitors, who represents Miss A, said: ‘Our client has instructed us to launch proceedings against Dr Hibbert and the local authority.
‘We believe this distressing case may be the tip of a very big iceberg.’
Source: Daily Mail
Christopher Booker writes on professional experts.
Dubious 'experts' are paid to tear families apart
A new report condemns the shoddy standards of psychologists' reports in our family courts.
A long overdue scandal hit the headlines last week when a semi-official report exposed one of the murkiest corners of our child protection system – the way that supposed professional “experts” help social workers to remove children from their parents.
A study by Professor Jane Ireland, a forensic psychologist, for the Family Justice Council examined 126 psychological reports trawled at random from family court documents. It found that two thirds of them were “poor” or “very poor” in quality; that 20 per cent of their authors had no proper qualifications; and that no fewer than 90 per cent of the authors were not practising psychologists but appeared to earn their livings, wholly or partly, from writing reports for social workers. Already one psychologist, whose company has made nearly half a million pounds a year from such reports, is under investigation by the General Medical Council.
The picture Prof Ireland conveys is one with which I am only too familiar. I have seen how families can be torn apart largely on the basis of highly dubious psychological evidence designed, as John Hemming MP puts it, to “suit the demands of local authorities”. One mother lost her children, for instance, on the basis of a 235-page report, costing £14,000, which found that she was “likely to have a borderline personality disorder” – without the author ever having met her.
Another woman was found by a psychologist to be “a competent mother” – so the social workers went to a second witness, who found the same. They then commissioned a third, who at last came up with what they wanted: that the mother had, again, “a borderline personality disorder”. On that basis, her three children were sent for adoption.
A married couple lost their daughter because the father, who had had four “psychological assessments”, saw no reason to submit himself to a fifth. The Court of Appeal found that he seemed to be putting his “emotional needs before those of his child”, and ordered that the child be adopted.
Damning as Prof Ireland’s report is, her remit was only to look at psychological assessments. An equally disturbing picture might emerge from examining other groups of medical “experts” who earn thousands of pounds from evidence which parents may not be allowed to challenge or even read.
One contentious area, for instance, is where parents are accused of having injured infants who are found to have small fractures to their bones. A fashionable theory, pioneered by a Dr Kleinman in the US, holds that such fractures are a sure indicator of “non-accidental injury”, ie the child must have been abused. In one case (which I was able to report last year because the judge, unusually, published his judgment) it was clear that all the four medical witnesses had supported this “Kleinman theory”, unquestioningly accepted by the judge.
But other experts strongly disagree, citing studies which suggest that such fractures may quite often arise naturally from a deficiency of vitamin D (as tests had shown was the case with this particular mother). When I showed the judgment to a doctor expert in this field, he immediately recognised three of the witnesses as doctors who “go round from one court to another to support the Kleinman theory”. Since no one was in court to challenge them, the heartbroken mother – like many before her – lost her son.
Several scandals have hit the headlines in recent years involving doctors struck off after making a reputation as witnesses, pushing some theory about “brittle bones”, “shaken baby syndrome” or “Munchausen syndrome by proxy” which was eventually exposed as fallacious. But these causes célèbres have centred on criminal courts, where evidence can be put more rigorously to the test than is required by the much laxer procedures of family courts. As I have observed before, once a court system is allowed to hide itself away behind a wall of secrecy, the chances are high that it will become corrupted. A perfect example is the role played in our family courts by many of these professional “experts”. The good work Prof Ireland has begun cannot be allowed to stop there.
Source: Telegraph (UK)
Addendum: More on Dr Hibbert.
The doctor who took my baby away
As Dr George Hibbert, an 'expert’ child-care psychiatrist, faces being struck off, we talk to one mother who was labelled unfit, while a whistle-blower gives an insight into his unconventional methods
By Patrick Sawer, 7:00AM BST 01 Apr 2012
"I miss my daughter so much when I’m not with her,” says Maria, staring longingly at a photograph of the pretty three‑year-old. “People who’ve seen me with her know I’m a good mother, but what Dr Hibbert said about me meant that I wasn’t allowed to keep her.”
The 36-year-old is talking about Dr George Hibbert, a controversial psychiatrist whose damning verdict on her character and personality resulted in Maria (not her real name) losing custody of her only child.
Maria’s story raises disturbing questions about the power one man could exercise over those he judged to be unfit parents. Between 2000 and 2010 he was commissioned by social services departments throughout England (who paid him around £6,000 per case a week) to determine whether the parents referred to him were fit to keep their children. As a result of his reports, dozens of children were separated from their mothers or fathers.
But in a sudden turn of fortune, Dr Hibbert, 59, now faces being struck off by the General Medical Council, following claims that he misdiagnosed many of his patients with mental disorders and tailored his conclusions to suit the view of the relevant social services departments. And it is indicative of the doubts being raised over Dr Hibbert’s methods that his assessment that Maria was suffering from mental health problems – which led to custody of her child being given to the father – was later contradicted by an eminent psychiatrist, who concluded that there was no evidence she was an unsuitable parent.
“If it wasn’t for Dr Hibbert, I could still be with my baby,” says Maria. “It has been terrible. Being without her, and only seeing her for short periods, is very upsetting. I feel so sad whenever I have to say goodbye. I miss her very much.”
The controversy surrounding Dr Hibbert comes at a time of growing concern over the activities of child‑care experts on whose opinion courts rely to determine whether a parent is a fit and proper person to bring up their own child. Only a few weeks ago a report by Professor Jane Ireland, a forensic psychologist, warned that decisions about the future of thousands of children are being based on flawed evidence from well-paid “experts”.
Maria, who is originally from South America and whose identity cannot be revealed for legal reasons, is a domestic worker in Oxfordshire. A naturally emotional woman, her tough life experiences have left her with a deep distrust of authority figures, and she has often – to her own detriment – clashed with social workers and those with influence over her child’s future.
Social workers originally become involved after Maria suffered a period of postnatal depression following the birth of her daughter in May 2009. She then entered into a dispute with the father of the baby over custody. The couple were estranged and their relationship had been troubled, at times violent.
Oxfordshire County Council referred her to Dr Hibbert because they believed her to be impulsive, volatile and unable to prioritise the needs of the child.
Maria was sent to the Windmill Hill Centre near Cricklade, Wiltshire, one of two residential family centres run by Dr Hibbert, the other being Tadpole Cottage outside Swindon. She was one of hundreds of parents sent there over the years, who spent up to 14 weeks at a time having every aspect of their behaviour and interaction with their children monitored and recorded as part of their assessment. The opinion of Dr Hibbert – who trained as a psychiatrist in Oxford and worked in the NHS for 20 years before setting up in private practice – was key in deciding whether a child should be allowed to stay with its mother or father.
As part of their assessment, Maria and the other parents were set a number of weekly challenges. These included doing a large supermarket shop for about 14 residents and staff and involved loading and manoeuvring two heavily laden trolleys while simultaneously looking after their child. Another “challenge” required the parent to vacuum the stairs at the centres while holding their child.
But the tyre-changing exercise was the one Maria and the others dreaded most. This required the parent to wait until it was nearly time for the baby to be fed before driving into the country, accompanied by an assessor. Once in an isolated spot – by which time the child would, in all likelihood, have started crying for a feed – a “breakdown” would be staged. The parent would then be required to change the tyre while looking after the increasingly fractious baby. The challenge was designed to observe the parent’s interaction with their child in what was undoubtedly a stressful situation.
“I’d never changed a tyre before in my life,” says Maria, “but fortunately my baby was only whining a bit, so I could go back and forth from her to the tyre, comforting her and then working on the wheel. I managed to change the tyre and drove the six miles back to the centre to feed her.
“The stair-vacuuming task I passed easily, too, carrying my baby in one arm and hoovering with the other,” she continues. “But one poor 17-year-old girl failed. She was really upset.”
Maria maintains that she did all that was asked of her during the residential assessment, and that towards the end of the 13-week period Dr Hibbert indicated to her directly that he would recommend her as a fit mother.
“He told me he thought I was a good mother, even if I could be a bit emotional and temperamental,” she says.
A few days later, however, following a row between Maria and Dr Hibbert over what she claimed was the inappropriate behaviour of a male parent at the centre, he appeared to change his mind. Indeed, he is understood to have told social services that she had a level of personality dysfunction which, under stress, would lead to behaviour indicative of a personality disorder.
Maria was left shattered by Dr Hibbert’s comments – and by what happened next.
After receiving his report, together with the advice of social services, the family court ruled that Maria should not be given custody of her baby. In May 2010, after a period of foster care, custody was awarded to the father of the child. Maria was initially allowed only two hours a week contact under the supervision of social workers.
“Dr Hibbert said I behaved in an unpredictable way,” says Maria. “But everyone who knew me and saw me with my daughter said I was a good mother.”
Those impressions were confirmed by a whistle-blower who worked for Dr Hibbert until the Windmill Centre’s closure in August 2010. “From what I saw, Maria was a perfectly normal, loving mother,” she says. “She was caring and organised. She had problems with Dr Hibbert because he would deliberately push her over the edge, but I couldn’t see that she had any problems with her baby.”
The whistle-blower, speaking exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph, has more than 20 years’ experience of working with children. “Dr Hibbert would deliberately needle people,” she continues. “The entire assessment situation was set up as a deliberately unnatural environment for a mother or father, in order to make them feel very uncomfortable.”
She claims that on one occasion Dr Hibbert put his fingers in his ears and chanted, “Nah, nah, nah, I’m not listening”, when one mother tried to raise her concerns with him.
She also claims that another woman who had a habit of writing “to do” lists as a way of organising her day was deemed to be obsessive; while a young father was judged as having paedophile tendencies after Dr Hibbert saw him lying on the floor cuddling his four-year-old daughter while they watched the BBC’s CBeebies together.
The whistle-blower has subsequently raised her concerns with John Hemming MP, who campaigns for greater transparency in family courts, and is now prepared to give evidence at the GMC hearing.
Dr Hibbert’s work was lucrative. Companies House records show that profits for his company, Assessment in Care, rose from £23,000 in 2001 to a peak of £468,000 in 2007. The company – which he ran with a solicitor specialising in child-care cases – is now understood to be worth £2.7 million, while his family home, set amid the rolling Wiltshire countryside, is worth an estimated £500,000.
But in what seems to have been an attempt to limit any action the GMC could take against him, Dr Hibbert closed the assessment centres and wrote to the council offering to voluntarily withdraw his name from the medical register, stating that he had “no intention of returning to clinical practice in the future”.
The GMC refused his request. It decided that it was in the public interest for the matter to be fully investigated “because of the unresolved concerns regarding his fitness to practice”.
Dr Hibbert was unavailable for comment. Speaking on his behalf, a spokesman for the Medical Protection Society says: “Dr Hibbert is unable to comment on allegations raised in relation to care of a patient due to his professional duty of confidentiality. We can confirm that Dr Hibbert is co‑operating with an ongoing General Medical Council investigation and that no findings have been made against him.”
As for Maria, when her case returned to court earlier this year, matters took a turn for the better. In contrast to Dr Hibbert’s opinion, experts found no problems with Maria’s mental state and no evidence that she posed a risk to her daughter. As a result, the court ruled that Maria should have increased access to her daughter, including an overnight visit once a fortnight on top of six hours together every Monday.
In time, Maria hopes to be allowed by the court to spend more time with her daughter. But she remains bitter about her treatment at the hands of Dr Hibbert.
“I’m so happy that I’m seeing my baby for longer now. It’s lovely being with her,” she says. “But I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for Dr Hibbert. Other mothers have suffered in the same way because of him – and it must not be allowed to continue.”
Source: Telegraph (UK)