A troubled mental health trust has been told to make improvements to its wards caring for people with a learning disability or autism after a whistleblower reported concerns.
Wards at two hospitals run by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust were rated as inadequate by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after the watchdog found insufficient staffing levels and a "significant deterioration" in standards.
The trust provides care to adults with learning disabilities and autistic people at Lanchester Road Hospital, near Durham, and Bankfields Court in Middlesbrough.
The CQC carried out an inspection in May and June in response to whistleblowing concerns around staffing at Lanchester Road.
This was extended to a full comprehensive inspection after further issues were found, the CQC said.
The trust’s overall rating remains rated as "requires improvement."
At Lanchester Road, concerns were raised about how well patients were protected from poor care and abuse.
Three people had been injured while being restrained, the CQC said. And 32 incidents of injury had been reported for healthcare assistants, some requiring treatment.
Karen Knapton, CQC head of hospital inspection, said: “When we visited Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, we found a significant deterioration in standards of care at Lanchester Road, as well as some concerns at Bankfields Court, since our last inspection in 2019.
“We found some people didn’t have the opportunity to lead inclusive and empowered lives due to overly restrictive practice on both sites, which must be addressed as a priority to keep people safe.
“At Bankfields Court, we were concerned that managers didn’t always recognise the restrictive practice being used. Also, it wasn’t always recorded, and staff didn’t learn from incidents to reduce the levels of restrictions in place for some people.
“It was concerning that Lanchester Road had insufficient, appropriately skilled staff to meet people’s needs, due to high levels of vacancies and staff sickness. This meant people didn’t receive consistent care from staff who knew them well and could care for their individual needs.
“Additionally, at this site staff didn’t always understand how to protect people from poor care and abuse. Three people had been injured during restraints, and 32 incidents of injury had been reported for healthcare assistants, some requiring treatment. This is unacceptable and measures must be put in place to keep patients and staff safe.
“We have told the trust what improvements must be made, and we will continue to monitor the service closely, returning to check on progress to ensure people using the service are receiving the care they should be able to expect.”
Jennifer Illingworth, care group director for children and young people and learning disabilities at TEWV, said: “Given the previous good ratings for this service, this is clearly disappointing. We are committed to improving the experience for patients in our care and we are delivering an urgent action plan that is already showing we are making improvements.
“We immediately commissioned an independent peer review into the service after the inspection in May and acted swiftly on its recommendations.
“Going forward, we will continue to work with our partners on the future provision of learning disability and autism services to ensure that together we offer the right packages of care that meets the needs of patients and their families.”
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