NHS mental health trust to be prosecuted amid claims it failed to offer safe care

Haroon Siddique
Connor Sparrowhawk drowned after having an epileptic seizure in a bath at a care unit run by Southern Health NHS foundation trust. Photograph: JusticeforLB/PA

A mental health trust is to be the first NHS provider to be prosecuted under legislation brought in after the Mid Staffs scandal.

Southern Health NHS foundation trust is being taken to court after a patient sustained serious injuries during a fall from a low roof at Melbury Lodge, Royal Hampshire county hospital, Winchester, in December 2015.

It is accused of failing to provide safe care and treatment resulting in avoidable harm to a patient and other patients being exposed to a significant risk of avoidable harm, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said on Monday.

Legislation allowing the CQC to prosecute for such alleged offences was introduced in 2014 as a response to events at Mid Staffs, which was was criticised by a public inquiry for the “routine” neglect of patients between 2005 and 2009.

Southern Health provides services to 45,000 people across Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Melbury Lodge includes a specialist mother and baby unit for women suffering with mental illness, as well as a ward for older people with mental health problems.

In its most recent report, in September last year, the CQC noted that anti-climb guttering had been installed to prevent patients getting on to the roof and that the fence had been fixed to reduce potential footholds after concerns were previously raised about its accessibility.

Basingstoke magistrates court will hear the case relating to Melbury Lodge this year.

Julie Dawes, interim chief executive of Southern Health said: “I express again our apologies to the patient involved, and the patient’s family. The safety of people using our services is of central importance to us and we are doing everything we can to improve the safety and quality of our services at present.

“Since the incident the trust has made significant improvements to Melbury Lodge, investing over £1m. This includes climb-proof guttering to prevent a similar incident taking place, as well as comprehensive refurbishment of the interior to make the ward safer and more therapeutic for patients.”