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Mental health services to face surprise spot-checks after series of abuse scandals, watchdog warns



Unannounced and out-of-hours spot-checks on mental health services are set to ramp up following a string of abuse scandals, The Independent can reveal.

The Care Quality Commission’s new mental health chief Chris Dzikiti said he was “saddened” by “unacceptable” scandals in the last six months, warning the regulator “will use the powers [it has] to hold people to account.”

He said the organisation will be carrying out more unannounced inspections of providers, including inspections launched out of normal hours, with the aim to have the “majority” of spot-checks carried out this way.

His comments come after The Independent exposed allegations of systemic abuse across children’s hospitals run formerly run by The Huntercombe Group, now Active Care Group.

In his first interview since joining the regulator in November Mr Dzikiti, who is mental health nurse by background, said: “I talk to chief execs of mental health services, I talk about [how] as a regulator, we will use the power we have, when [we] see poor practice, we will definitely hold people to account.

“In our inspection programmes, we are also increasing the unannounced inspections out of hours inspections, because we need to try and get really deep into the culture of mental health services, especially those areas where we think there’s a higher risk of poor practice.

“I will not rest until we get people safe.”

Commenting on the care scandals exposed by The Independent, BBCPanorama, and Channel 4 Dispatches in recent months he said: “It’s unacceptable, poor practice and I feel for the families.

“Some of what we see are symptoms of some of [wider] challenges within mental health services.”

He said there were “systematic” challenges within mental health care such as poor environments, shortages in the workforce, the fact that people are admitted to “unsuitable” units, and the “lack of some provision in community services.”

On Monday the CQC chief told the Public Accounts Committee he’d seen services where there were 19 patients sharing one shower and one bathroom.

Mr Dzikiti warned without addressing “route causes” of the challenges in mental healthcare, such as workforce shortages and the state of hospital buildings, the scandals and poor care would continue.

“We might be able to address the issues now for an organisation [but] because people haven’t addressed the root cause, we’re back in 12 months’ time, we are back again in 18 months,” he said.

Despite the challenges and scandals, Mr Dzikiti said he is hopeful for a “better” future and said he’s seen examples of good care across the country.

“I believe for better days ahead. From what I’ve seen so far, the work we’re doing internally, some of the conversations I’m having with system leaders. There are challenges that exist, but we can also see the positives…I’ve also seen the passion, the drive the dedication [to improve].”

‘Frustrated’

A series of investigations by The Independent and Sky News into a private mental health provider The Huntercombe Group, now called Active Care Group, have exposed allegations of “systemic abuse” from more than 50 patients.

The provider has since been forced to close one of its hospitals in Berkshire, called Taplow Manor, after the NHS decided to stop sending patients to its CAMHS unit.

The CQC rated the provider’s two children’s hospitals, Taplow Manor and Ivestey Bank, as “inadequate” this year.

When asked about poor care uncovered in The Huntercombe Group Hospitals, the chief inspector said: “It’s frustrating, to be honest…I feel angry.

“It’s not okay to see services like that. Personally, I’ve had an opportunity to speak to young people [from there]. I’ve spoken to parents as well with children who have been to those services and spent time listening to their experiences.”

“We have to be brave,” the CQC chief continued. “We have to challenge each other. We have to hold organisations to account when there is poor practice.”

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