• Southern Health is being prosecuted by the CQC after a patient sustained serious injuries falling from a roof
  • Prosecution will be the first time the CQC has used its regulatory powers to pursue a criminal case against an NHS trust
  • In April 2016, the CQC said that the trust had taken “no effective action” to prevent patients accessing the roof despite previous safety incidents

The Care Quality Commission is to bring its first ever prosecution of an NHS trust over an “alleged failure to provide safe care”.

The regulator said today that it was prosecuting Southern Health Foundation Trust after a patient sustained serious injuries at a mental health unit run by the scandal-hit trust.

The prosecution is the first time an NHS trust has been prosecuted by the CQC under the fundamental standards regulations. The standards, which came into effect in April 2015 following the Francis report into the scandal of poor care at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, were designed to set minimum, criminal, thresholds for care.

The prosecution is in relation to an incident in December 2015 when a patient sustained serious injuries during a fall from a low roof at Melbury Lodge, Royal Hampshire County Hospital. The centre, run by Southern Health, houses several wards of different types.

The trust is also facing prosecution over “other patients being exposed to a significant risk of avoidable harm”.

A CQC report into the trust published in April 2016 makes reference to the incident saying that it had raised “serious concerns” with the trust in October 2014 about the security and safety of Melbury lodge. The report said: “No effective action had been taken to prevent patients climbing onto the roof of Kingsley ward even though there had been several incidents which could have resulted in potential harm and one incident when a patient fell, suffering serious harm.”

HSJ had previously reported that the trust had been aware of the risk posed by the roof for some time because it had been used by a number of patients detained under the Mental Health Act to abscond from the ward.

A CQC spokeswoman said the delay between the incident and the decision to prosecute was based on the need to “take time to collect evidence.” She added that the regulator has “no set desire to use [regulatory powers] more, we will use them where and where appropriate”.

The Southern Health case is expected to be heard later in the year by Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court and if the trust is found guilty it could face an unlimited fine. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

Julie Dawes, interim chief executive of Southern Health Foundation Trust said: “I express again our apologies to the patient involved, and the patient’s family. Since the incident the Trust has made significant improvements to Melbury Lodge, investing over £1m. This includes climb-proof guttering to prevent a similar incident taking place, as well as comprehensive refurbishment of the interior to make the ward safer and more therapeutic for patients.”

By law, registered providers of health and social care services - including NHS trusts - must take all reasonable steps and exercise all due diligence to ensure patients receive safe care and treatment.

Southern Health is being prosecuted under Regulations 12(1) and 22 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014). Regulation 12 relates to preventing people from receiving unsafe care and treatment and preventing avoidable harm or risk of harm. Breach of the regulation is a criminal offence and the CQC can take action without having to issue a warning notice, under changes brought in by health secretary Jeremy Hunt as part of wider reforms of the CQC.

Prior to this action the regulator has only used its fundamental standards to prosecute four care home providers.