PPatients and their families who reported allegations of abuse at a chain of mental health units have not even received responses from the regulator and the NHS, the independent can reveal.
An investigation by the independent and Sky News last month exposed how “systemic abuse” went unchecked in hospitals run by The Huntercombe Group for several years.
More patients have now come forward, bringing the total number of cases to more than 50, and have shown how they tried to raise the alarm to the health service and the Care Quality Commission, but say they were ignored as the abuse continued. .
It can also reveal that the police are investigating the alleged rape of a child by a staff member in 2019. A report was made to Thames Valley Police last month.
Huntercombe Group now faces legal claims from nine patients, dating back to 2003, who were treated at Maidenhead Hospital, now called Taplow Manor, in Berkshire. The allegations include the use of sedative medication as a form of control, excessive restraint, and use of inappropriate force in connection with tube feeding. There are also more allegations of sexual abuse.
Mark McGhee of Hutcheon Law, who represents the patients, said: “With multiple clients. We have reports of inappropriate grooming and touching, in relation to when men applied the restriction because all customers are women.
“It is systemic. It’s over a very long period of time and what worries me is not just the hospital itself, but why some of the other agencies that were supposed to be monitoring what was going on didn’t do anything. Why nothing was done to try to prevent some of this.
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“Clients feel very disappointed by the bodies that admitted their children to this hospital. They feel that they did not adequately monitor or supervise what was happening. We know that there have been relatively recent discussions and reviews with CQC with NHS England and others. Yet despite all of that, the families have not been able to see or receive any plan of action or what is happening.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said the new allegations were “deeply concerning” but could not confirm any action in response.
Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labor Party’s shadow mental health secretary, calls for a national review of mental health services. She said the allegations against The Huntercombe Group “demonstrate the extent of the crisis at the heart of inpatient mental health units.”
Questions about inspections
the independent has seen several emails from parents sent to the CQC, local NHS trusts, and NHS England, between 2018 and 2022, raising concerns about the care of children at Maidenhead hospital, to which families say no they received an answer.
In an email to the CQC, while conducting an inspection in June 2019, a parent noted that his daughter had been able to tie a ligature multiple times when staff were supposed to be watching her, but said his daughter did not feel comfortable lift it up her concerns about protection directly to the inspectors in front of other patients. The mother did not receive a response and the control body described the unit as “good”.
Taplow Manor and Ivetsey Bank, near Stafford, have been inspected by the CQC 11 times since 2014. Although these inspections are not advertised, several patients said the number of staff had been temporarily increased ahead of the visits.
Mae, who joined Stafford in 2018, said: “Everything would be done to be much better served than during inspections, staff would speak to us in a much more humane and ‘friendly’ way, positive quotes would be written on the board and the medication would be at the right time. Meal support would be increased even though none of this normally happens.
A patient who was in the Maidenhead unit during an inspection in June this year, when its rating was upgraded from “inadequate” to “requires improvement”, said staff would cover the damage to the walls with pictures and bring in new furniture.
Although both hospitals were rated “good” until 2018, complaints from 14 patients date from before that time.
The CQC said the independent would be conducting a review of the group’s leadership and organizational operations in March, in response to allegations of poor service. The regulator said that while it did not directly respond to all complaints, it did factor them into the inspection findings.
Our investigation last month revealed that the CQC had received over 700 whistleblowing and safeguarding reports about the Huntercombe units, including various “sexual safety” concerns.
Chris Dzikiti, the regulator’s director of mental health, said: “It is unacceptable that any young person in need of mental health support receives anything less than the highest standards of care.” He said the CQC was grateful to those who contacted his care to give “vital” feedback.
Families left feeling powerless.
Parents said they had been pushed from “pillar to post” by raising concerns to NHS commissioners, often being redirected to management at The Huntercombe Group. In an email seen by the independent, parents raised concerns to their local NHS about the excessive use of injected sedatives as a form of chemical restraint. Parents say he was not followed.
Another emailed directly to the NHS England complaint lines but said he had received no reply. The mother also raised a number of concerns in writing to the NHS trust that she had sent her daughter to Maidenhead. She said: “We feel powerless, alone, as if our voices are falling into a dark pit, scared, desperate. We just wanted our daughter to come home and be safe. We wanted her to get better and for her to have some kind of treatment that would help her get better. There seemed to be no answers.”
Nikki Broughton Smith, whose daughter Amber was a patient in 2019, said: “It’s very clear that no one wanted to take responsibility.
“As far as NHS England was concerned, we didn’t even know they existed for up to a year after treatment and then we clarified this on multiple occasions, verbally and via email. [and] They didn’t try to contact us.”
Since 2015-16, the NHS has paid almost £190m to Huntercombe to admit children to its mental health beds.
Following our investigation, NHS England said it had put in place “enhanced” monitoring of the Huntercombe units. An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is deeply concerned by these shocking allegations. Consequently, these two units, which are run by Active Care Group, have been visited several times by senior commissioners in recent weeks.”
Girls Stripped By Male Staff
Among the dozens of patient reports uncovered by our investigation are allegations of young women being stripped naked by male staff. Ami, who was a patient at Maidenhead in 2020, said: “They didn’t even make sure there were female staff in the room when they stripped me down to my underwear. There was a male staff member in the room and they took off my bra and pants and put me in anti-ligature clothing.”
At one point, he said he was not allowed to leave his room for six weeks.
Another girl said: “During one restriction, there were five men and a nurse in my room and the male staff members had to undo the button and zipper on my jeans and then pull my pants down with the female staff only looking on.”
Maddie, who was at Maidenhead in 2003, said the independent he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder which he believed was related to his experiences in the hospital. She said: “It was living hell, literally. In fact, I would have preferred to be dead than to live like I did in that place. When my parents signed a consent form for tube feeding on admission, they were unaware that this would include tightly restricted force-feeding.
“I was force-fed even more sedative drugs when I could barely stay awake. Sometimes the men would also hit me against the wall, stand me up and hit my bones on the skirting boards and I would scream in pain, but they would only tell me that the more I resisted, the harder they would fight.”
Layla, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was a patient at Ivetsey Bank in 2018. She said she suffered pneumonia after staff restrained her to be fed from a tube and the tube entered her lung, rendering her nearly unconscious. “Then they left me in my room because they told me I was being dramatic,” she said. Finally, another patient called an ambulance.
Hutcheon Law is also calling on the NHS and councils to provide “aftercare” to former patients who have PTSD and trauma claims from their time in hospital. Rhianna Denver, a 2016 Maidenhead patient, said she believed she suffered from PTSD, flashbacks and mental health issues after her stay on the unit, adding: “People don’t understand what happens when you’re inside.” .
Huntercombe’s owners, Active Care Group, said: “We are very saddened and concerned by the experiences of these patients and the reports of poor care, some of which relate to time in our care. All our professionals are trained, registered and regulated by their professional bodies; our policies and clinical interventions are in line with national guidelines and best practices; The care of our patients is our top priority.”
He said CQC visits were never announced, rooms were “continuously” redecorated and all complaints were investigated at the CQC required threshold, adding: “We are also pleased to receive positive feedback from many young people and their families.”
Elli Investments Group, owners of the Huntercombe Group until March 2021, said: “We are saddened by these allegations and regret that these hospitals and specialist care services, which were owned and operated independently by The Huntercombe Group, failed to meet standards. expected for high-quality care.”