In another blow to the reputation of UK private sector mental health provision, two hospitals run by the Priory Group were this week rated inadequate by the Care Quality Commission amid allegations of poor care and lax safety standards.

The CQC found Priory Hospital Blandford in Dorset and Kneesworth House in Royston, Hertfordshire to be unsafe and uncaring and gave both six months to improve or face closure.

At Kneesworth House, a forensic unit with medium secure facilities run by Priory subsidiary Partnerships in Care, inspectors uncovered evidence of routine abuse.

The inspectors reported: “Two patients told us some staff …. used a key to prod their feet if they did not get up in the morning. Some patients altered their sleeping position or wore trainers in bed to prevent this happening. Seven patients we spoke with commented that a few staff were rude, unfriendly, did not listen to them or antagonised.”

At Priory Hospital Blandford, a unit for young people with mental health needs, the CQC found high levels of violence and out-of-touch managers.

The inspectors reported: “Staff and young people said that they felt unsafe on the wards and that there had been patient-on-patient assaults and bullying, and assaults on staff. Many staff did not have the experience and skills to manage the complex presentation and needs of the young people on the ward.”

Dr Paul Lelliott, the CQC lead for mental health, said of both hospitals: “If urgent improvements are not made to ensure people are safe, we will take action to prevent the provider from operating these services.”

The Priory Group is owned by US company Acadia and has a poor track record with the regulator. This year it was forced to close a hospital in High Wycombe after it failed an inspection and was fined £300,000 over the death of a 14-year-old girl at a unit in East Sussex.

Acadia is reported to be trying to sell the group and this latest scandal will do little to help. It bought The Priory Group for £1.3 billion in 2016 from private equity firm Advent International.

The Priory Group cited staffing issues as a factor in the CQC’s findings. In a statement the company said: “This reflects a national picture, with staffing problems particularly acute where sites are rural and service users require high levels of specialist input and round-the-clock care.”

The latest Priory revelations come in the wake of recent accusations of patient abuse at mental health units run by rival private sector provider Cygnet Healthcare.

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Date published: July 31, 2019

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