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Serious failings at children's mental health hospital

Serious failings at children's mental health hospital Credit: PA

A hospital for children with mental health problems in Stafford has been slammed by health officials after inspectors observed a youngster harming themselves in front of a member of staff.

Huntercombe Hospital has been placed in special measures by the Care Quality Commission after inspectors identified a number of serious failings.

During an inspection, a member of staff at the private hospital failed to intervene as a patient repeatedly banged their head against a wall, despite instructions not to allow such behaviour to prevent injury.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) performed inspections on the hospital, which cares for 39 ill young people from across England, in April and May after a whistleblower contacted inspectors with concerns.

Officials identified a number of key areas where the hospital was failing to care for youngsters including:

  • The over-use of restraint,
  • Insufficient staff numbers in key areas,
  • A lack of knowledge among staff as to where key emergency equipment was kept,
  • Some patients had "limited" access to psychological therapy due to ongoing staff vacancies,
  • Inspectors also raised concerns about staff training, medication doses and the inappropriate use of long-term segregation of some patients.
Serious failings at children's mental health hospital Credit: PA

CQC's deputy chief inspector of hospitals, and lead for mental health, Dr Paul Lelliott, said:

Staff often used physical restraint as a first, rather than last, response to a patient's distress. Staff did not accurately document restraints and failed to offer follow up care to the young people involved. Also, situations that could lead to aggressive or disturbed behaviour were not being routinely de-escalated.

Feedback from young people and their carers was largely negative and reflected a hospital that did not take into account the individual needs of those using the service.

Despite being aware of the safety concerns at the hospital, the executive team within the wider Huntercombe group did not act or respond at the pace required to address the issues in a timely or decisive manner.

We have maintained close contact with the service and partner agencies since the inspection and will undertake further inspections, including unannounced visits to check that the necessary improvements have been made.

– Dr Paul Lelliott
Serious failings at children's mental health hospital Credit: PA

A spokesman for The Huntercombe Group said:

We have been carrying out an improvement programme at The Huntercombe Hospital Stafford, over the past few months, to address the requirements of the Care Quality Commission inspection report from their visit in May.

For a short period of time, we stopped taking new admissions but as a result of rapid improvements that were made, it was agreed that the hospital should accept new admissions, on a phased basis five weeks later.

A further CQC inspection took place in June and although we are awaiting the written report, the inspectors' verbal feedback acknowledged that improvements had been made and that the hospital had addressed the concerns raised in the warning notice.

We deeply regret that some aspects of the service had fallen below the high standards that we are committed to provide. We are confident that the centre has been turned around by the strengthened management team and it has made good progress towards returning to the standards that we expect of it.

– The Huntercombe Group