SOLOMON HUGHES spotlights the Alpha Group which is making inroads into mental health services - and is failing dismally in its quality of care
A family of arms-dealers are taking over the NHS, thanks to health service privatisation. They are being arrested over the arms deals. Inspectors talk about bullying and maltreatment in their hospitals. In any sane world they would be thrown out of the NHS and the system that put them there would be stopped.
But the Choudhrie family and their Alpha Group are major donors to the Lib Dems. By funding the Tories' junior partner, they help hang on to respectability. The C&C Alpha Group was founded by Sudhir "Bunny" Choudhrie, a multimillionaire who moved from India to Britain in 2002.
"Bunny" and his son Bhanu were arrested and questioned by the Serious Fraud Office last month in connection with multimillion-pound corruption connected to Rolls-Royce deals - that's the firm that sells military jets, not luxury cars.
Choudhrie was previously investigated by the Indian police over his work on arms deals in India. At one point he was put on a list of "unscrupulous persons" by the Central Bureau of Investigations, India's elite police agency. The Choudhries deny wrongdoing.
I became interested in the Choudhries mainly because their Alpha firms have NHS contracts. It doesn't seem right that arms-dealers are running three mental hospitals for the health service. And indeed they don't seem to be any good at it.
Since I last wrote about their hospitals in January, things have got worse. Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission have issued formal warnings and are "taking action" against Alpha's private low-security mental health hospital which treats young people and adolescents for the NHS in Woking.
The inspectors have "warned Alpha Hospitals Limited that it needs to make immediate improvements at Alpha Hospital - Woking." Inspectors said that during unannounced visits they found the hospital "was failing to meet five of the six national standards," including "care and welfare of people" and "safeguarding people from abuse."
The details sounded even worse. Youngsters were put in seclusion for "whispering." The teenagers in seclusion did not receive medical help even when they were seen "lying on the floor being sick" or" "rolling [their] eyes and losing balance."
Inspectors were told that "seclusion and inter-muscular injections are regularly used as threats." Last year inspections also uncovered other worries, including strip-searching and restraint. Inspectors reported: "One female adolescent patient had been restrained by nine members of staff, one of whom was a male" because she refused to remove her underwear at the Woking hospital.
The Choudhries' other mental hospitals were also criticised by inspectors. You would think that they would start losing contracts. Or even that they should never have got them in the first place. Indeed, you might expect leading Lib Dem Simon Hughes to complain.
After all Hughes has attacked the Tories for "widespread privatisation of NHS services" and demanded the "NHS should be responsive to patients' needs, based on co-operation rather than competition, and promote quality and equity not the market."
But the Choudhries' Alpha firm has given £500,000 to the Lib Dems since 2010. At the end of last year the Choudhries gave £60,000 to Hughes's own Lib Dem constituency party to help him get re-elected. The Choudhries also used their own small charity to mingle with Lib Dems and other politicians.
Ironically, this charity, called Path to Success, mostly did this through donations to healthcare causes. Path to Success gave out around £200,000 over five years, so was pretty good value for company PR. Bhanu Choudrie and his wife Simrin used the charity to host events with Norman Lamb MP - he is the Minister for Care, who should be shouting about poor conditions at their hospitals.
Lib Dem MP Paul Burstow also went to their events when he was a health minister. Nick Clegg's wife Miriam was patron of the Choudhrie's charity - the pair even hosted an event for the charity. So the Lib Dems get some big money and have a few "charity" functions.
We get stuck with an arms-dealing firm making a mess of the NHS.