Staff caught sleeping on job and pushing patients at 'inadequate' private hospital

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

St John's House in Palgrave, near Diss, has been rated 'inadequate' by the CQC (file image) - Credit: Archant

A private hospital where staff were caught sleeping while in charge of vulnerable adults has banned from taking any new patients.

St John’s House, a 49-bed hospital for people with learning disabilities and mental health issues in Palgrave, near Diss, was visited by health regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in December 2020. 

Kevin Cleary, CQC's deputy chief inspector of hospitals, wrote in a report published on Friday that the hospital was providing an “unacceptable” service and that some staff interventions demonstrated elements of patient abuse. The CQC rated the hospital as "inadequate" - the lowest possible rating and placed it into "special measures".

Bosses at Priory Healthcare, which owns the facility's provider Partnerships in Care, said they "do not accept" the standard of care, adding that 18 out of 24 improvements required by the CQC have now been completed.

Employees had physically restrained patients when they were displaying dangerous behaviour before other methods were been exhausted, Mr Cleary wrote in the CQC report.

During one incident, a patient was pushed to the floor and injured. 

Abuse was not always reported to the authorities either, inspectors added, which is a legal obligation. 

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Mr Cleary said that the hospital’s “failure to transparently refer all possible instances of abuse and thoroughly investigate concerns" has put its patients at "prolonged risk of harm”. 

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

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

Ligature risks and blind spots were identified in areas used by patients who had been secluded, risking the safety of people prone to self-harm. 

And on at least five occasions, CCTV captured staff sleeping while they were supposed to be monitoring vulnerable adults. 

Inspectors said the hospital was short-staffed, heavily dependent on agency workers, and lacked essential equipment, including for resuscitation. 

PPE to prevent the spread of Covid-19 was not always used appropriately, the CQC added. 

A spokesman for Priory Healthcare said senior management is taking action, adding that they have already seen improvements in the physical environment, upholding patient dignity, incident reporting, and care planning.

"The service is now fully compliant with the required infection prevention and control procedures and we are committed to delivering all required improvements as swiftly as possible.

"Patient safety remains our absolute priority.”

Inspectors gave the hospital a rating of ‘inadequate’, down from ‘good’ in 2018, and gave it six months to improve.

They said improvements needed to take place in 24 key areas, including setting up monthly meetings with local authorities, carrying out CCTV spot checks, and addressing ligature risks. 

Bosses must also ensure that patients are observed safely, that physical intervention is only used as a last resort, and that all environmental, safeguarding and staffing risks are dealt with appropriately.