• Elysium Healthcare’s Staffordshire hospital rated “inadequate” by CQC
  • Inspectors found 90 per cent of staff were “unqualified support workers”
  • CQC also found high levels of agency staff usage

A private hospital for learning disability patients has been rated “inadequate” and placed into special measures, with the Care Quality Commission finding nine in 10 staff were “unqualified”.

The CQC inspection of Elysium Healthcare’s The Woodhouse hospital in Cheadle, near Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, uncovered serious staffing concerns within the unit. The hospital is an NHS-commissioned service, which caters for up to 39 male patients with learning disabilities, autism and forensic histories, including sexual offences.

Following an inspection in June, the CQC found the majority of the hospital’s staff were “unqualified support workers”.

The CQC also found 40 per cent of nurse and support worker posts were vacant, leading the provider to fill 2,375 shifts with agency staff from December 2018 to February 2019, including running three wards entirely on agency staff. There were also times when no qualified nurse was present within communal areas of the ward.

At an earlier January 2017 inspection, the CQC rated the provider “good” overall, although it was rated “requires improvement” in the safe domain. Following its latest inspection, the CQC downgraded the provider’s rating to “inadequate” overall, including “inadequate” for effective and well led.

Other concerns raised by the CQC in its latest report included:

  • “High proportion” of staff lacked the skills, training or experience to care for patients with learning disabilities or autism;
  • Lack of resource “at all levels of leadership”;
  • Managers did not discuss learning with staff following serious incident investigations;
  • The senior leadership were “disconnected” from what was happening on wards;
  • Qualified nurses spent most of their time “dealing with paperwork” and sometimes covering two wards; and
  • Staffing levels were not sufficient enough to allow recommended breaks from patient observations.

The CQC said it will return within six months to reinspect the service.

Paul Lelliott, CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health, said if the hospital failed to make improvements by the time it was reinspected, “we will take action in line with our enforcement procedures to protect people’s safety”.

An Elysium Healthcare spokeswoman said: “We take the health and wellbeing of those in our care extremely seriously and we are disappointed by the results of the CQC inspection. The inspection process is helpful and from it we have identified additional areas where we can strengthen the way we work.

“Following the inspection, we put in place an immediate action plan which clearly sets out how we can better support those we care for and our staff. We see this as a positive process that will enable us to improve our service in a measured and timely way and we have already strengthened our management team and developed additional training for staff.

“Services across the country are struggling to recruit the highly trained staff needed and although we do use external staff, these are locum staff who have a sustained relationship with us and work as a regular member of our care team.”

Earlier this year, HSJ asked all major private providers of inpatient mental health services for data on staffing levels, including the use of agency staff. All providers, including Elysium, declined to provide the data.

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