Once again, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has found that the Southern Health Trust is still not up to standards and requires improvement. The CQC, an independent regulator of health and social services in the UK, inspects and regulates medical care to ensure that patients are receiving the best possible services when it comes to both mental and physical health. Following up a March 2018 investigation, the CQC looked into ten mental health and five social care services this past June and July. What they found is that Southern Health NHS still ‘requires improvement’ in order to better serve patients.

Past Infractions

After an audit in March, Southern Health was fined a hefty £2 million for the “entirely preventable” deaths of two mental health patients. Connor Sparrowhawk, 18 at the time, died in the trust’s care in 2013 when a senior psychiatrist failed to carry out a necessary risk assessment. The epileptic teenager drowned while in the bath due to a seizure, one which has been described by prosecuting lawyer Justice Stuart-Smith as an “unnecessary human tragedy.” In 2017, Southern Health admitted guilt for the death and made a formal apology to Sparrowhawk’s family.

Another patient, Teresa Colvin, also died under Southern Health medical supervision. She passed away at age 45 at Woodhaven Adult Mental Health Hospital in Calmore from self-inflicted wounds in 2012. The trust also pled guilty to Colvin’s death. According to trust executive Dr Nick Broughton:

“It is clear that we should have taken action sooner to prevent this tragic outcome and undoubtedly, knowing that more could have been done will only add to the pain of Teresa’s family.”

After these inspections, the CQC went on to issue a warning notice concerning the safety of young people in healthcare institutions. They not only found that the majority of facilities investigated were short-staffed, but that they also carried out too few observations and didn’t go far enough to prevent self-harm work at Leigh House. According to the CQC, the measures currently in place aren’t sufficient to prevent children and adolescents from harm.

Actions Taken

After July follow up inspections, the CQC claims that Southern Health NHS has addressed the issues uncovered in March. Collaboration and strong leadership have both led to marked improvements within the system. More frequent and thorough inspections have helped to reduce the number of patients that sustain injuries or attempt self-harm while involved in government health care. According to Karen Bennett-Wilson, head of hospital inspection in the South: “Overall we believe that the trust has made significant improvements. The new leadership team has a clear vision and strategy.”

Not only do these changes benefit patients but also healthcare workers. Bennett-Wilson adds: “Staff morale has improved with teams reporting a significant change in the culture and a greater sense of optimism than we have seen in the past. Frontline staff that we met felt positive and proud of their work and felt the trust was heading in the right direction.”

Further Steps

Despite the strides that Southern Health has taken in the past few months, there’s still much more that can be done to improve patient safety when it comes to mental and social care. One of the most significant issues facing healthcare providers is a lack of qualified staffing options, particularly when it comes to nurses and midwives. Mental, social, and medical care providers need to improve their hiring practices, while the UK as a whole needs to find a way to encourage young graduates to enter the healthcare field.

While Southern Healthcare has improved its practices since its March audit, there’s still a long way to go. To keep patients safe, both medical and mental institutions need to have a strong staff support system. The CQC is encouraging UK healthcare facilities to focus on hiring practices to fully staff their office and avoid a potentially life-threatening shortage of medical professionals.

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