Haven Whitechapel apologises over 'inexcusable failings'

Rape victim in medical examination room. Picture posed by model
Image caption NHS England said 93 clients were "affected by the two issues"

An NHS Trust has apologised for "inexcusable failings" at a sexual assault referral centre in London after complaints that samples were not sent to forensic laboratories for DNA tests.

Two staff members have been dismissed from the Haven in Whitechapel and the centre is under new management.

NHS England said results from some samples had also not been passed on. It said 93 clients were affected.

Barts Health NHS Trust said swift action was taken to retest samples.

An NHS England spokesman said "a serious incident was raised" in 2011 and "an immediate investigation carried out" at the Haven in Whitechapel.

"This investigation unearthed a further issue of results from samples having been received but not passed on to clients," he added.

"A total of 93 clients were affected by the two issues."

Confidential report

Since April 2013, when NHS England was established, the commissioning arrangements for the Haven have changed.

NHS England said all three Havens in London - in Whitechapel, Paddington and Camberwell - were now managed by King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Camberwell and Paddington Havens were not affected by the incident.

The Haven in Whitechapel has reopened but is yet to provide a full 24-hour service.

Barts Health NHS Trust said in a statement: "We are extremely sorry for the inexcusable failings at the Whitechapel Haven.

"As soon as we became aware that there was an issue in 2011, we took swift and immediate action to ensure that all the affected samples were retested and contacted the individuals involved to offer a full apology, support and counselling."

The Independent newspaper says it has seen a confidential report into the incident, obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The paper reports that dozens of samples taken from victims of sexual attacks had been left in a fridge instead of being sent for forensic analysis.

Staff described working in "an oppressive, tense environment" and told investigators they dreaded shifts but were afraid to complain to managers, the Independent said.

The paper said the report had not been made public while the trust said it had "strived for transparency throughout".

Staff 'commended'

The trust said there had been no suggestion it had acted in an inappropriate way during the investigation.

It said: "The independent investigation report commented on the diligence, honesty and openness of our staff in working together to discover and correct what had gone wrong."

The trust also pointed out that its staff had been commended "for the quality of individual care provided to those accessing the service".

NHS England said: "The trust took swift and immediate action working with the Metropolitan Police to ensure that forensic testing took place without further delay on all samples affected.

"Immediate steps were taken to contact each client, whose samples had not been sent for testing, as well as those whose samples had been tested but who had not been informed of the results.

"They received a full apology and were invited to make an appointment with a trained counsellor to receive the results and continued support."

Liz Kendall, Shadow Social Care Minister, said the report should have been immediately published.

"The women who have been affected have a right to know who is responsible for the unacceptable failings at Whitechapel Haven and that they are properly held to account.

"Complete transparency is also essential to ensure similar services for rape victims learn the lessons from what has happened to make sure these appalling mistakes never happen again."

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