‘Inadequate staff’ at Berkshire mental health unit ‘puts youth at risk’

Two former employees at an adolescent mental health unit told Sky News that they believe inadequate staffing and education puts youth at risk.

It follows the claims of more than 50 former patients who previously told Sky News that they were failing the care they saw in units managed by The Huntercombe Group, now part of Active Care Group.

The death of a patient in one of the hospitals is currently being investigated by the police.

Callum Smith worked at one of the units in Maidenhead, Berkshire – now called Taplow Manor.

It worked from June 2019 to October of last year. The hospital provides specialist assistance to young people with serious mental health problems.

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“There were many incidents that should have been avoided. There were many patients who could have caused serious harm to themselves that could have been avoided if we had more staff.”

Mr. Smith said he is a senior support worker and his job is to allocate staff to patients. Some had to be closely supervised as they were at risk of harming themselves.

He said he was concerned about insufficient staffing and training, and claimed there were staffing issues “almost every day”.

Mr Smith said: “Due to the lack of numbers, we sometimes have to reduce the observations patients need.

“Let’s say two staff members were assigned to attend to that patient’s observations…sometimes they were reduced to one, and similarly any patient needing three staff members was reduced to two.”

Sky News previously collected testimonies from former patients who said they thought inadequate surveillance put them at greater risk of self-harm.

Callum Smith also said the lack of staff affects what he calls a “basic human right” to go to the bathroom.

“Patients had a hard time getting into the garden because they needed an attendant.

“There were even toilet breaks and places like that that couldn’t be made easy for staff and patients because we didn’t have anyone to take them. I felt bad, I felt horrible.

“There was a lot of staff who really cared. Frankly, when we were below the numbers – which didn’t happen often – that made our job very difficult. It made the job very difficult.”

Mr. Smith said he was being disciplined for taking an unauthorized break. He says his squad levels mean he’s not able to take appropriate breaks. He was given a written warning before resigning. His last full shift at the hospital was in February 2022.

Sky News spoke to another former employee, Rebecca Smith, who also expressed concerns about the impact of staffing levels.

He worked as a support worker at Taplow Mansion from May 2021 to November 2021.

“There weren’t enough staff to intervene when events occurred, and patients knew that,” he said.

“For example, I remember a time when a patient hit his head so violently that we had to intervene.

“But he attacked the staff, and then while the staff was dealing with this incident, another patient was able to sneak away and tie a rope – we were not aware because there were no staff left to monitor the other patients.

“It was a patient who alerted us to what was going on. The girl who tied the string had nothing to tie on, so she was in good physical shape, but was clearly disturbed by what had happened.”

GMB regional union organizer David McMullen had been traveling to the Maidenhead unit for the past seven years to meet staff.

But the management of Taplow Mansion no longer recognizes the union.

Mr. McMullen said: “It has always stood out as a problematic workplace in terms of the member rate we had there. Compared to other nursing homes and similar employers, the time we spent there dealing with problems – there was always more problems.

“But I think that has increased drastically over the past year.”

Investigators from the regulatory agency’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated Taplow Manor as “requiring improvement” in its most recent assessment, conducted in June 2022 and published in August 2022.

The same report rated security as “inadequate” overall.

The unit was audited again in December last year, but the results have not yet been published.

Thames Valley Police are currently investigating the death of a patient in February last year and the rape of a patient in 2019.

In October last year, Sky News – in partnership with The Independent – Statements from more than 20 former patients Those who go to units managed by the Huntercombe Group, including Taplow Mansion in Maidenhead.

They all claimed that they were unsuccessful in the care they received.

Claims that patients are at increased risk of harming themselves due to inadequate supervision; allegations of excessive use of restraint; and he claims they left some of them feeling more traumatized than when they arrived.

In response to this report, more than 30 former patients – independently of each other – expressed similar concerns about their treatment.

We know about 20 former patients are currently considering legal action.

Active Care Group, which took over The Huntercombe Group in December 2021, said: “These unsubstantiated accusations undermine the tremendous efforts of current employees to support those in their care at Taplow Estate.

“These allegations were made by two former staff members, one of whom was disciplined. Both have not been working at the hospital for a year.

“Staff at Taplow Mansion is monitored daily and shifts are fully staffed, usually with an additional two to three workers per shift, as well as therapists, doctors, teachers, nurses, and ward managers.

“The latest CQC report for Taplow Mansion, released in August 2022, found: The service had adequate care and support staff to keep children and youth safe. The service was reducing vacancy rates.”

Elli Investments Group is the former owner of The Huntercombe Group. “We regret that these hospitals and specialist care services, owned and independently managed by the Huntercombe Group, do not meet the expected standards for high quality care.

“Huntercombe Group was sold in March 2021, and the 12 hospitals and specialist care services that are the subject of this sale are now part of the Active Care Group. We wish Active Care Group success in their continued operations.”

In response to the report, NHS England told Sky News: “The NHS continues to monitor these two units through regular site visits and speaking to existing patients and staff in the wake of these shocking allegations – this as well as reminding providers that their contracts are at least necessary. Safe staffing levels enable them to provide safe, high-quality care to patients who are in place.”

The Ministry of Health and Social Care made an announcement earlier this week. A quick look at inpatient mental health services in the UK.

Alongside the concerns raised by Sky News, it followed other recent care failures, including the death of three teenage girls. Valleys of Tees, Esk and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.

The review will look at NHS services as well as those provided by independent providers.

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