• Southern Health pleaded guilty to failing to provide safe care and treatment
  • Patient broke their neck after climbing onto roof
  • The trust had done “nothing sufficient to prevent” incident despite warning signs

Southern Health Foundation Trust has pleaded guilty to a causing a patient life-altering injuries through safety failures.

It pleaded guilty to failing to provide safe care and treatment to its patients at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court today. It is the first time the CQC has used its regulatory powers to bring a prosecution against a trust.

The CQC announced in March that it was prosecuting the trust after a patient under Southern Health’s care broke his neck when he fell from the roof of one of its hospitals, Melbury Lodge, Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

Today the CQC said in a statement that Paul Greaney QC, the prosecutor, had said there had been seven occasions when patients had climbed onto the Melbury Lodge roof in an attempt to abscond since March 2010, but the trust “did nothing sufficient to prevent this until April 2016”.

The QC said one patient, referred to as Mr AB, climbed onto the low roof in December 2015 and, despite staff attempts to talk him down, broke his neck when he fell to the ground. He survived the fall but his injuries “will affect the rest of his life”.

The same patient had already climbed onto the same roof three years earlier, in March 2012, and during this admission to Melbury Lodge in 2015 the family had warned the staff he might try again. After the accident three more patients were able to gain access to the roof, in February 2016. One of them was also injured.

The case is now adjourned to 12 October when sentencing is expected.

A spokesman for Southern Health said: “Southern Health pleaded guilty to the charges from the Care Quality Commission and we are clear that we should have done more to ensure the safety of those under our care. We very much regret that injury was caused as a result, and have offered unreserved apologies to the patient involved.

“Following concerns raised by the CQC, our own internal checks and after a comprehensive inspection at Melbury Lodge, anti-roll guttering was installed on the roof in May 2016. We are grateful to the CQC for recognising this work and removing the warning notice of which this risk formed part.”

The trust is also facing potential prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive following the unrelated death of a patient, Connor Sparrowhawk, in another of its units.

CQC’s prosecution was bought under the fundamental standards regulations. The standards, which came into effect in April 2015 following the Francis report into poor care at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, were designed to set minimum criminal thresholds for care.

By law, all registered health and social care providers must take all reasonable steps to ensure patients receive safe care.

Prior to this, these prosecution powers had only been used against care home providers.