Date Published: 23 November 2005

Norfolk (UK) Hospital unit closes to protect adolescents with learning disabilities

A mental health unit for adolescent patients at St Luke's Hospital in Norfolk (England, UK) is to close down following intervention from the Healthcare Commission.

This is the first time the health watchdog has taken steps to secure the urgent closure of an inpatient healthcare facility in the independent sector.

The move follows an investigation of the privately-run St Luke's Hospital by the Healthcare Commission, which identified serious concerns about the treatment and welfare of adolescents with learning disabilities and mental health problems in the Harleston unit.

As part of its investigation, the Healthcare Commission carried out an unannounced inspection of the hospital. This inspection highlighted problems with the Harleston unit, which can accommodate up to 13 adolescent patients. There were particular concerns about the lack of procedures in place to ensure that employees had the necessary clearances, qualifications and experience to work in such a unit.

The Commission's inspectors were concerned to find that staff at the hospital had not received the training they would need in order to care for children with learning disabilities. In particular, staff had not received training in child protection issues and in methods of care for children with learning disabilities.

Based on the evidence in its possession, the Commission made an application to seek an emergency order to close the Harleston unit. But, the Directors of Mild Professional Homes Ltd, which owns St Luke's Hospital, decided not to go to court and have voluntarily agreed to the closure of the unit. They are now working with the Healthcare Commission and the local agencies to ensure safe transfer of each of the young people to a suitable placement. The company has also agreed to a restriction on its registration, preventing it from admitting children to the hospital for treatment.

Sandra Chittenden, the Healthcare Commission's Head of Central Region, said:

" The patients being cared for at St Luke's adolescent unit are extremely vulnerable. It is absolutely critical that every possible action is taken protect their safety and welfare.

_ With the support of the Mental Health Act Commission we were able to take steps to protect patient safety and bring about the closure of the Harleston unit. It is now our first priority to ensure that each patient moved from the unit, is placed into appropriate care safely and as quickly as possible."

This is the latest move from the Commission to protect people with learning disabilites. In September the Commission took action to safeguard the patients at the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust following concerns regarding the quality of care. Today, it launches its three-year plan for adults with learning disabilities. The plan aims to bring about much needed improvement to the healthcare of people with learning disabilities in England over the next three years.

Since it was established in April 2004, the Healthcare Commission has taken legal action against a number of healthcare establishments in the independent sector ? including a slimming clinic and a cosmetic laser centre. In relation to the NHS, the Commission has made recommendations that have led to the Secretary of State taking special measures in relation to two NHS Trusts.

Source(s): The Healthcare Commission (England, UK),
formerly at http://www.healthcarecommission.org.uk - website no-longer live.

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