LEGAL CLAIMS OF ABUSE by staff at Yew Trees Hospital, Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, are being investigated on behalf of former patients, following serious allegations at the now closed mental health unit.

Major concerns have been raised about the use of restraint and seclusion at the unit, and emotional and verbal abuse of patients by staff.

A number of families whose loved ones received treatment at Yew Trees have approached Leigh Day abuse team lawyers to ask them to investigate their claims.

They report that staff failed to take seriously or brushed off earlier concerns about their relative’s treatment. They also report unexplained injuries and raise concerns about the use of force against patients.

Yew Trees Hospital was run by Cygnet Health Care and closed in September last year. The 10-bed hospital was intended to provide specialist care and treatment to learning disabled patients, autistic patients, and patients with mental health problems.

Many patients were detained under the Mental Health Act. Some were awaiting discharge from hospital to community placements, with delays having been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some had limited speech or communication and may have found it more difficult to raise concerns. They were wholly reliant on staff and managers to keep them safe.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) identified concerns about the safe care and treatment at Yew Trees as far back as April 2019. It investigated the hospital again in October 2019 and following a further inspection, gave it an overall “inadequate” rating in April 2020, citing concerns for patient safety. Despite, these concerns, the unit remained open until September 2020.

Further unannounced checks by the CQC took place in July and August 2020, after the provider reported allegations of patient abuse to the regulator. The CQC inspectors witnessed “abusive, disrespectful, intimidating, aggressive and inappropriate behaviour” by staff towards patients. This included kicking, slapping, and shoving, as well as failures to follow restraint guidelines.

Key findings by the CQC:

  • That staff had failed to protect patients from abuse and improper treatment.
  • Poor culture in the hospital increased the risk of harm to patients, including abuse and human rights breaches.
  • On eight occasions between May and July 2020, staff witnessed inappropriate behaviour, including physical and emotional abuse of patients, by other staff but did not take any action.
  • Staff records of incidents did not match some of the CCTV footage.
  • Managers had failed to manage risks to patients’ wellbeing. They also failed to make changes that the CQC had identified at earlier inspections.

As a result of the complaints, Cygnet Health Care suspended eight members of staff and two agency workers. Four staff members have since been sacked. Complaints were also made to Essex police.

Leigh Day understands that Cygnet has commissioned its own investigation into complaints of abuse at Yew Trees Hospital between May and July 2020. The CQC is also undertaking a wider review, and a further CQC report is awaited. Local authorities and commissioners may also be carrying out their own safeguarding enquiries.

The abuse team at Leigh Day is experienced in representing learning disabled and / or autistic clients who have been subjected to abuse, including instances of unlawful restraint and seclusion. In these cases, they have argued that the use of restraint and seclusion against learning disabled people can amount to a breach of their human rights, and cause psychological harm.

Catriona Rubens, solicitor in the abuse team at Leigh Day, said: “The patients at Yew Trees hospital deserved safe care in an environment that respected their dignity and human rights. The reports of potential abuse and mistreatment at the unit – 18 months after the CQC first identified concerns about patient safety at Yew Trees – are highly concerning. Lockdown last year made it harder for families to visit their loved ones and check up on their care; the scrutiny of the regulator was therefore all the more important. Sadly, in this case, the CQC’s action appears to have come too late.

“We await with interest the final CQC report into Yew Trees and urge Cygnet to make public the findings of its own investigation, so that patients and families in other Cygnet-run services across the UK can understand what the company is doing to ensure that the alleged abuse and mistreatment at Yew Trees is never repeated.”

* Source: Leigh Day

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