Mental health patients 'failed' by Epsom Hospital wards

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By Sblackledge1 | Thursday, November 22, 2012, 09:14

A MENTAL health trust which was rated "excellent" by a national accreditation scheme is facing allegations from families who say it failed their loved ones.


Earlier this month the Advertiser reported that Elgar and Delius wards at Epsom Hospital improved their rating from "good" to "excellent", the highest rating in the Royal College of Psychiatrists' national accreditation scheme.

The rating was immediately questioned by the parents of Louise Walsom, from Westhumble, who took her own life last year at the age of 18.

Louise died while on day leave from Elgar ward, which is run by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SBPFT), and a report into her death found "significant deficiencies" in her care. Now, family members of more former patients have come forward.

In a letter to the Advertiser, one woman, who had a close family member in Elgar ward earlier this year, claimed patients there were "being medicated, locked in the ward, left to their own devices" and that some staff showed "little compassion".

She also claimed other families she had spoken to had similar experiences.

"On reading they had been rated 'excellent', we were horrified," she wrote. "The ward appeared to be short-staffed most of the time; the staff themselves in Elgar ward repeatedly complained about being understaffed."

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said she is thankful her family member is still alive.

She added: "There were so many incidents with our relative that we are in the process of making a complaint.

"Standards need to be raised significantly, or I fear more lives could be lost."

Another person who came forward after the Advertiser's article earlier this month was a Dorking man whose son took his own life in 2008, while on leave from Elgar ward.

The father, who wished to remain anonymous, said he thought SBPFT had failed to learn from inquests, such as those into the deaths of Professor Ben Pettet in 2005 and his son in 2008, before Louise Walsom died last year.

He said: "It could be concluded that the recommendations from these inquests have either been ignored or, if implemented, they have not been implemented effectively.

"I know of several other suicides or suicide attempts over the last seven years."

He added: "I have no confidence in SBPFT or the Care Quality Commission's management and its ability to protect patients.

"We, the survivors of suicide, would like to be reassured that if mistakes are made, a remedy has been found and that procedures and processes have been modified so that these mistakes cannot occur again, and that future patients will be protected."

He also said he believed SBPFT does not communicate well enough with families of its patients.

"For example, I only learned at the inquest that my son had boiling water poured over his face by a fellow patient, and had made a previous attempt to commit suicide while on the ward, which was apparently not considered serious enough for them to tell me about because it had failed, and he was on leave at the time of his death," he said.

"This [article in the Advertiser] may not change a thing within SBPFT, but it will keep the spotlight on them throughout the year.

"It will also warn family and friends of patients of the potential risks in the treatment of mental illness within the NHS.

"It is a regrettable fact that some of those suffering from mental illness will attempt suicide.

"However, some are preventable and all patients must be given the best possible chance."

According to SBPFT, there have been four "unexpected deaths" of inpatients who were on leave from the hospital's mental health wards since January 2011.

Jo Young, director of quality at SBPFT, said there had not been "systematic failings" at the hospital.

"Many people who use our services have a positive experience," she said.

"In fact, for every letter of complaint these services received last year, six others wrote to us to praise the quality of service they had received.

"If people feel our standards have fallen short, however, we always seek to understand why.

"I often meet with families personally to explore their concerns and see what we can do differently, and I extend this invitation to the families who have written in.

"We also welcome external reviews from organisations, including our regulators, coroners, our commissioners and from professional organisations such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, so that we can get further insight and make improvements based on this feedback.

"We have made a number of changes on our Epsom wards recently, including a more extensive therapy and activities programme, now available seven days per week, and an individualised treatment programme to support people to set their own recovery goals and work towards them. 

"We have also made environmental improvements to minimise people's opportunity to self harm and provided staff with additional training around granting leave and assessing risk."



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