‘Inadequate’ private hospital closes after patients ‘put at prolonged risk of harm’

The CQC visited St John's House in Palgrave, near Diss, in December 2020 (file image)

St John's House, in Palgrave near Diss, was reinspected by the Care Quality Commission in July 2021 - Credit: Archant

A struggling hospital where staff were caught sleeping on CCTV three times in a row is shutting its doors for good.

St John’s House, in Palgrave near Diss, is run by Priory Group subsidiary Partnerships in Care and at the time of its latest inspection in July had 49 beds across four wards.

Care Quality Commission inspectors placed the facility in special measures and stopped admissions in December 2020 after finding some interactions between patients and staff “demonstrated elements of abuse”.

At the December inspection and twice since CCTV footage has captured staff sleeping when they should have been observing vulnerable patients.

Hospital chiefs said the decision to close the hospital “was not taken lightly” and said it had continued to suffer from recruitment difficulties it said stemmed from a nationwide shortage of specialist nursing staff for learning disability services.

'Unacceptable care'

CQC experts returned to the Lion Road facility in July and uncovered further instances of “unacceptable care”.

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Stuart Dunn, the CQC’s head of inspection for mental health and community services, warned in a report published today that insufficient improvements had been made to protect patients from harm and abuse.

“Staff weren’t responding appropriately to patients who were self-harming, with one patient not being sent to hospital quickly enough after swallowing a foreign object, despite complaining of abdominal pain,” he said.
“We reviewed CCTV footage and found staff were sometimes asleep when they should have been observing patients to make sure they were safe. 

“This was all the more concerning as we identified this as a concern during the previous two inspections of this service, demonstrating a lack of improvement to keep patients safe.”

St John's House, a private hospital in Palgrave, north Suffolk

The 49-bed facility had 29 adults detained under the Mental Health Act in July, with some subject to Ministry of Justice restrictions - Credit: Archant

Mr Dunn warned safeguarding concerns, such as insufficient staff training for restraints and the use of soft handcuffs during safety incidents, had not been reported to the CQC.

“This service’s continued failure to refer all instances of abuse and thoroughly investigate concerns has put its patients at prolonged risk of harm,” he added.

CQC chiefs said its concerns were so serious that admissions continued to be restricted and other urgent conditions were imposed to prevent harm and protect patients.

Further concerns included a lack of nursing and support staff to keep patients safe, which had also led to male staff being placed on intimate female patient observations.

In one case, this resulted in a delayed response from observing male staff to respond to a patient suspected of self-harming, CQC inspectors wrote in their report.

Recruitment issues stemmed from 'shortage of nursing staff'

Two patients remain at the facility with hospital bosses working with local authorities to help place them elsewhere.

A hospital spokesman said: “Following discussion with NHS (England), we notified the CQC on 23rd July 2021 that we had taken the decision to close St John’s House. 

“This step has not been taken lightly but we consider that, given the wholly exceptional circumstances, it is the most appropriate course of action.

“Despite our best efforts and substantial investment, St John’s House continued to suffer from significant recruitment difficulties stemming from the nationwide shortage of specialist nursing staff for learning disability services." 

St John's House, a private hospital in Palgrave, near Diss

Priory Group bosses said staffing issues stemmed from nationwide shortages in learning disability nurses - Credit: Archant

They added: “As such, it had become increasingly challenging to meet the needs of the people we look after and over the last two months we have worked diligently with all stakeholders to find appropriate alternative provision for service users.”

Bosses at the Priory Group, which operates dozens of private hospitals across the UK, added that the company “fully supports” the transforming care initiative, which enables more people with a learning disability to live in the community with the right support, and close to home.

A spokesman added: “In line with this approach, we will continue to work with NHS England to change the way we deliver our learning disability services in order to provide the most appropriate form of care for the people we look after.”

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