Today, the Hampshire based NHS trust Southern Health was fined nearly £2,000,000 for health and safety breaches in regard to the preventable deaths of two patients: Connor Sparrowhawk, the “Laughing Boy” of the Justice for LB campaign who died in the bath as a result of an epileptic seizure in 2013 in the now-closed Slade House unit in Oxfordshire, and Teresa “TJ” Colvin, who killed herself in a Southampton mental health unit where she was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder following childhood abuse. The case was the result of several years of campaigning by the families of the two victims in which Connor’s family in particular were vilified in internal memos in the trust and subjected to whispering campaigns and personal abuse by both Trust and county council employees, but the campaign resulted in being vindicated in court on multiple occasions, notably at Connor’s inquest in 2005 which found that his death was preventable and contributed to by neglect. (Today’s sentencing remarks can be found here in PDF form.)
I tweeted when I read this news that I hoped the money could come out of the relevant people’s pensions or the “PR frippery fund” rather than from the healthcare budget. (A good example of the latter was the trust’s “going viral” leadership development programme and “viral quality” courses and the videos they made to promote them, while the trust and its leadership in particular were under investigation for these two deaths, among others: Nico Reed’s for example). At the time I was on the way down to the south coast to visit a friend who was recently admitted to one of Southern Health’s units for reasons (in some respects) not far removed from Teresa Colvin’s. She told me that nearly all the women on her unit were rape victims (“so don’t be a woman”). I wondered if services were much better in Hampshire, the trust’s core area, than they were in the former Ridgeway Partnership area (an old trust based in Oxford that maintained a chain of units from Wiltshire to Buckinghamshire), but I’m not so sure.
She is mostly happy with the way she is being treated and likes most of the staff, with one exception. But she said funding problems were very obvious: a lot of the time there was not enough staff to look after everyone properly, especially at night where on one occasion, two of the three staff that were on duty were looking after individual patients leaving a third to look after everyone else. She also told me that several patients had walked out of the hospital grounds and down to the nearby railway line where it was thought they intended to jump under a train, that units had been closed in her area with no replacement, meaning that when she was waiting to be admitted a few weeks ago she was threatened with being transferred to anywhere in the country, even Yorkshire (the unit is, in fact, only about 15 miles from home). These problems are, of course, not limited to Southern Health by any means. She also said she had not seen a psychiatrist since being admitted and that the unit did not appear to have regular ward rounds, unlike other psychiatric units. This has led to her not knowing whether she was likely to be sectioned, which she suspects will happen but has no idea when.
So, I find it worrying that the best form of justice we can expect for people who have died as a result of neglect in the NHS is a massive fine for the trust (the psychiatrist who was the responsible clinician when Connor was in Slade House has also been suspended for a year, although this has no effect as she is no longer in the UK). Can trusts be forced to protect healthcare budgets from such fines, so that it comes out of less essential areas and staff are not laid off (or lost because other organisations offer better pay, not necessarily in healthcare), so that activities are not cut to the bone leading to patients being confined for longer periods (particularly if on section) and having nothing to do (even on a weekday afternoon) but sit outside and smoke?
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