Children's mental health services in Essex rated 'inadequate' by CQC

The St Aubyn Centre in Colchester which provides mental health services for children

The St Aubyn Centre in Colchester - Credit: Google

An Essex NHS trust which provides mental health services to children has been rated 'inadequate' and must no longer admit patients without permission after serious safety concerns were raised by the healthcare watchdog. 

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection of Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) was prompted by "a serious incident and concerning information received about the safety and quality of the service", the health regulator said. 

Due to "serious concerns" over staffing and observations found on inspection, the trust - which provides mental health care to children and young people across two sites at the St Aubyn Centre in Colchester and Rochford Hospital - must now not admit any new patients without consent from the CQC. 

The overall service rating also went from 'outstanding' to 'inadequate' following the inspection of the trust's three mental health wards - Larkwood and Longview wards in Colchester and the Poplar Adolescent Unit in Rochford - in May and June this year. 

The trust must also ensure there are adequate staffing levels on all three wards so observations can be carried out safely and patient needs are met, the CQC said. 

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EPUT said it has acted to make "sustainable improvements" to services since the inspection. 

Stuart Dunn, CQC head of inspection for mental health and community services, said inspectors found that some children "came to harm" as a result of the trust's failings. 

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“When young people with mental health needs receive care at hospital, all possible steps must be taken to ensure the environment is a safe one for them," he said.

"Our inspectors found that Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust was not providing this experience for young people at the children and adolescent mental health wards as some came to harm as a result of their failings. 

“Observations were not always carried out safely and patients had been harmed as a result of these poor practices, which included patients self-harming during enhanced observations. These incidents were not always reported or dealt with appropriately.

“Under-staffing was another significant concern made worse by managers not ensuring staff had the appropriate skills and experience to look after the vulnerable patients in their care. Many staff told us they felt overworked. 

“The use of bank and agency staff was high meaning patients missed out on receiving care from a familiar person. Inspectors saw examples where staff members didn’t understand the needs of patients in their care which resulted in safety incidents occurring."

The girl was an inpatient looked after by the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust Pict

The trust said it took the findings "very seriously" - Credit: EPUT

Paul Scott, chief executive officer of EPUT, said: “We take the CQC’s findings very seriously, and following their inspection visit in May we took immediate action to make sustainable improvements to our services for children and their families - these include increasing staffing levels, delivering ongoing coaching and mentoring for our staff in observing our patients and engaging with them and strengthening clinical and operational leadership.

“Patient safety is our highest priority, and we continue to work closely with the CQC and our partners to improve standards and ensure every patient has access to the best care possible.”

The CQC added it was monitoring the trust closely and continuing to work EPUT to ensure patient safety improves. 

Mr Dunn added: "We are aware that the trust is working hard to improve this service and is taking the appropriate steps to ensure young people are receiving safe care.

"We will continue to engage with the trust and will return to check whether sufficient improvements have been made and will take further action if needed."

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