Comments show 'inadequate' Northampton hospital did not take severe failings 'seriously enough', says watchdog

A board of directors for Northampton's St Andrew's Hospital has been criticised for seemingly claiming a damning inspection report they were handed this year was less to do with their own failings and more because the healthcare watchdog 'set out' to give them a bad rating.

Tuesday, 7th January 2020, 6:00 am
The CQC has paid another visit to St Andrew's, Northampton's biggest mental health hospital.

The CQC has today (January 7) published the results of a interim inspection of the mental health hospital off Cliftonville Road, following a severe inspection published in June 2019.

The report in the summer criticised St Andrew's for severe failings in its children and adolescent mental health care (CAHMS), including sparsely-furnished seclusion rooms with no beds or blankets, 'undignified' treatment of patients and, reportedly, "exposed sharp metal" in extra care suites.

Inspectors also found staff were arbitrarily restricting patients' access to blankets, snacks, drinks or wearing their own shoes. Patients in one ward had to ask staff just to unlock their own en-suite bathrooms when they needed the toilet.

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The watchdog criticised the hospital for comments made in a board of directors meeting that suggested they had not taken the failings seriously.

The adolescent unit of the hospital was rated as "inadequate" and given six months to improve.

But despite these findings, the hospital's board of directors seemed to downplay the criticisms in their own official meetings, and claimed the bad rating was influenced by criticisms the CQC was facing, according to the report.

In fact, the report says the comments suggest that the board believes the failings at St Andrew's were 'played up' by the CQC and that the healthcare watchdog may not have been impartial in their inspection.

Comments at a board meeting in May 2019 - by which time the board would have been shown the 'inadequate' rating - included: “We could also have been more aware of the pressures on the CQC to produce a highly critical report.

One comment at a board meeting stated: "We could also have been more aware of the pressures on the CQC to produce a highly critical report.

“...if the report is actually read without seeing the ratings, then it would not be seen as an inadequate report.

“It should also be noted that the CQC had faced intense criticism following the Panorama programme a few weeks ago and this may have had an influence on their decision making for the CAMHS (adolescents) report."

Meanwhile, an audit and risk committee meeting minutes in July 2019 state one comment as: "There is a different bar for the charity to meet in terms of quality because the space it sits in is uncomfortable for the NHS”.

The CQC criticised the comments, and say both meetings point to a culture at the hospital where their serious failings have not been "fully acknowledged".

Jess Lievesley, deputy CEO of St Andrew’s Healthcare, told the Chronicle and Echo in response: “The board and the leadership team of St Andrew’s hold the CQC in the highest regard and we are committed to working with them to achieve the best possible care for our patients.

"The specific comments made by the Board last year were part of the wider conversation aimed at recognising the challenges in the care system.

"The Charity is absolutely committed to the continued improvement of the services we offer and the safety of those in our care will always be our primary concern."

Meanwhile, the inspection published today - which does not overwrite the inadequate rating in June - said improvements were underway at the hospital but criticised St Andrew's for being slow to address concerns.

Inspectors found a "two-year backlog" to address certain issues, and new systems to improve care had yet to be fully implemented.

However, inspectors noted the hospital had put together a "newly formed leadership team with many of the skills, abilities, and commitment to provide high-quality services," and plans were in place to turn the St Andrew's around.

Kevin Cleary, CQC deputy chief inspector for mental health and community services, said: "St Andrew’s board knows what it must do to ensure all necessary improvements are made. We continue to monitor the provider and will carry out further inspections to check on any progress.”