Under-fire mental health trust Southern Health has blamed government funding pressures for its failure to stop vulnerable patients from gaining access to a rooftop leaving one with ‘life-changing’ injuries after a fall.
The largest mental health trust in the country was fined £125,000 at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court after it pleaded guilty to failing to provide safe care and treatment and failing to assess risk to patients at Melbury Lodge at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester.
It was also ordered to pay £36,000 in court costs and a £170 victim surcharge.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates all NHS trusts, brought the case against the trust which has repeatedly hit the headlines over its failure to investigate the deaths of hundreds of patients in its care.
Paul Greaney QC, prosecuting for the CQC, said Southern Health failed to take action to prevent patients from gaining access to the low rooftop between 2010 and 2016 on at least seven occasions despite warnings from its own health and safety officer.
The case comes after a patient, referred to only as Mr AB, aged in his 60s and who has ‘a distinguished history of public service’, fell from the rooftop in December 2015 and suffered serious neck injuries.
District Judge Loraine Morgan said: ‘It’s a significant concern that even this tragic incident involving AB did not result in immediate steps to prevent any further incident.
‘Works were not carried out because money was not available.
‘If £300,000 had been spent in a timely manner by the trust, not only could this prosecution have been avoided as would the loss to AB and his family.’
Judge Morgan said in deciding the level of the fine she took into consideration the trust’s financial situation, its guilty plea and improvements to its management procedures.
Mr Greaney explained Mr AB’s fall came after the patient previously climbed on to the rooftop during a paranoid episode when he believed the KGB was attempting to kill him and his wife had advised staff the previous day he was at risk of attempting to escape again.
He said: ‘She reminded them that he had escaped from the ward before and explained that he was very good at being deceptive as his past career had taught him how to escape.’
Mr Greaney said: ‘It follows that not only was a person responsible for health and safety at the Trust plainly aware of the problem by April 2012, he was proposing that steps be taken to remedy it.
‘Those steps were not taken until well after the events concerning Mr AB in late 2015. Rather, a dangerous state of affairs was allowed to persist.’
Describing the incident, he added: ‘It seems that staff attempted to talk him down, but Mr AB then plummeted from the roof.
‘In the result, Mr AB sustained serious injuries which have had a major impact upon his quality of life.’
Mr Greaney said that despite Mr AB’s fall, the Trust failed to take action and three patients gained access to the rooftop 11 weeks later with one suffering an arm injury and another managing to escape to France.
Mr Greaney said works to prevent access to the rooftop had now been carried out.
Paul Spencer, defending, said the public spending ‘squeeze’ contributed to its failures to assess the risk and carry out essential works at the hospital which is one of its 150 sites.
He said: ‘It’s without doubt one of the factors was the desire to save money. It is in a critical financial position.’