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Child died at mental health hospital ‘while staff were meant to be watching her’

Exclusive: 14-year-old girl died at Taplow Manor Hospital in Maidenhead after she was left unattended

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Thursday 25 May 2023 21:00 BST
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<p>The hospital’s children’s service has since been closed down </p>

The hospital’s children’s service has since been closed down

A 14-year-old girl who should have been under constant supervision at a mental health hospital died after a member of staff on his first shift left her unattended, an inquest has heard.

Ruth Szymankiewicz died at Taplow Manor Hospital in Maidenhead on 12 February 2022 after a care worker responsible for her one-to-one supervision “sporadically” left his post, the hearing was told.

It also emerged at the hearing that the care worker, who is now abroad, was allegedly using a fake name. Detectives are investigating him as part of a fraud investigation although he has not yet been interviewed by police.

Taplow Manor has been at the centre of several investigations by The Independent and Sky News over allegations of “systemic abuse” within a number of children’s hospitals formerly run by the Huntercombe Group and now run by Active Care Group.

Active Care Group, which owned Taplow Manor at the time of Ruth’s death, has since closed the hospital’s children’s service. The NHS had already paused admissions following reporting by The Independent.

During a pre-inquest hearing on Thursday at Beaconsfield Coroner’s Court, an officer for Thames Valley Police said: “On the 12th of February 2022, whilst under the care of Huntercombe Hospitals, Ruth was under one-to-one observation ... Ruth was allocated a care worker who was on his first shift as a support worker.”

The care worker “sporadically” left Ruth unattended “due in part to the carer asking when they are going to be relieved” and then the carer “assisting another colleague with the restraint of another patient”.

The officer added: “The police investigation determined the carer was using a false identity. He is believed to be abroad and has not been interviewed by the police at this stage. There is an ongoing fraud investigation in regard to this case.”

After Ruth’s death, the Care Quality Commission launched a criminal investigation. In an update to the coroner, it said that the investigation was looking at whether the provider had “brought about avoidable harm or exposure to risk” in relation to the young girl’s death.

In 2017, another young girl died at a hospital owned by the Huntercombe Group. Mia Titheridge, 17, who was supposed to be subject to 15-minute observations, took her own life when a nurse failed to check on her for almost an hour, an inquest found.

Thames Valley Police are also separately investigating an alleged rape of a child involving two staff members at Taplow Manor Hospital.

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