• NHS England sets up independent panel to investigate inpatient children and adolescent mental health, LD and autism services
  • Taskforce will seek rapid improvements in care 
  • Comes amid heightening concern over abuse and poor care
  • Will cover both NHS and private sector services
  • CQC alerts trusts to its concerns

NHS England has set up an independent board to scrutinise inpatient mental health, learning disabilities and autism services for children and young people, amid growing safety concerns nationally.

It today announced it was establishing:

  • A “taskforce” to “make a rapid set of improvements in care – over 18 months – but starting immediately”; and
  • An “independent oversight board to scrutinise and support the work of the taskforce”, and to make “recommendations for next steps”.

The independent board will be chaired by Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield who will “be given wide-ranging scope to track progress and propose rapid improvements in existing services, examine the best approach to complex issues such as inappropriate care, out of area placements, length of stays and oversee the development of genuine alternatives to care, closer to home”.

A lot of provision of units and wards for children with mental health needs, learning disabilities or autism are provided by private companies. NHSE said the work would cover both NHS and private sector services.

NHSE also said the board had not yet set its agenda, but confirmed it could include reviewing the commissioning of the services, which is often carried out by NHSE itself under its specialised services responsibilities.

Its statement said the taskforce would consider “the best way to deliver compassionate care for acute need – including reviewing independent sector and NHS provision – including giving nurses and other staff the right clinical expertise and managing issues like seclusion and segregation in inpatient settings”.

The move comes five months after BBC Panorama exposed horrific levels of abuse within a hospital for patients with learning disabilities run by private firm Cygnet Healthcare, and formerly by the Danshell Group. Three more hospitals formerly run by the Danshell Group have since been rated “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission.

A string of examples of terrible care in the sector have come to light over the past year or so, with one NHS run hospital closed by the CQC in August following an earlier severe warning. There have been calls for independent inquiries. The children’s commissioner has also highlighted problems.

NHSE chief executive Simon Stevens said in a statement: “This taskforce will place a spotlight on services and care for some of the most vulnerable young people in our society, bringing together families, leading clinicians, charities, and other public bodies to help make these services as effective, safe and supportive as possible for thousands of families.”

NHSE’s announcement came as the CQC highlighted its serious concerns about the same services in a letter to providers. It said it had rated 12 of them “inadequate” since May.

The letter asked providers to make sure staff are “fully aware of what human rights are, [and] whether there is anyone in [their] care whose human rights are also being breached”.

It said there would be a stronger focus on hospitals where patients stayed for years, away from their community, and where staff often lacked necessary skills, training, experience and support. These were “more at risk of developing into punitive environments that can increase the chance of an abusive culture developing”, it said.

The CQC said: “The action that providers, regulators, commissioners, government and others in the system has taken to date does not go far enough to protect people. We will be working closely with providers and the public.”


HSJ Transforming Mental Health Summit

The HSJ Transforming Mental Health Summit, taking place at the Hilton Leeds from 28-29 November 2019, unites 120+ senior figures from across the NHS, local authority and wider mental health service delivery landscape to discuss how to realise the visions of the NHS long-term plan and ensure successful local implementation of national priorities.

Held under the Chatham House Rule, attendees will quiz Paul Farmer and other national figures on general policy direction and co-develop solutions to their local challenges with NHS and local government colleagues from across the country. The summit is free to attend for senior NHS and public sector figures.

Register your interest