Mental health units – are they safe?

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West Lane Hospital in Middlesbrough, a mental health unit for young people, has been rated as inadequate by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after two girls died within two months of one another.

The two young girls both aged 17 died in June and August of this year. Both girls suffered from pre-existing mental health issues which were fairly severe in nature. The parents of the girls have called for urgent action to be taken to prevent further deaths at the unit.

The CQC highlighted that patients were at high risk of “avoidable harm” due to several issues with the trust, such as medicine not being stored safely, out of date medicines being used, and non-approved restraint techniques being used by staff against patients.

In addition to this, several staff issues were reported by the CQC.  There were substantial and frequent shortages of staff and failures by staff to adequately monitor risks to patients.  Earlier in the year it was revealed that there are disciplinary proceedings being investigated against 13 members of staff regarding the ill-treatment of patients. The staff also reported feeling unsupported and unvalued, they had low morale and advise that several incidents went unreported.

Amanda Cavanagh, a medical negligence specialist at Ashtons Legal, says: “What needs to happen to make a change to protect vulnerable young people? We are subjected almost daily to reports of young people taking their own lives because of a lack of available treatment.  But, as is demonstrated by the loss of these two young girls, even when accessing treatment, in a supposedly “safe place” they are still able to commit suicide. There is no excuse, sadly their deaths could and should have been avoidable and the families are left bereft.”


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