Families launch legal action against scandal-hit hospitals after The Independent exposed ‘systemic abuse’

Exclusive: Allegations include children being injured during restraint, inappropriate force-feeding and patients being over-medicated

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Sunday 18 June 2023 21:10 BST
<p>Legal action comes after<em>The Independent </em>published allegations of widespread abuse from more than 50 patients</p>

Legal action comes afterThe Independent published allegations of widespread abuse from more than 50 patients

Dozens of former patients are launching legal action against a group of scandal-hit children’s mental health hospitals after The Independent exposed a culture of “systemic abuse”.

More than 30 people, some of who are still children, are taking action after claiming they were mistreated at children’s hospitals run by The Huntercombe Group between 2003 and 2023.

Allegations include children being injured during restraint, inappropriate force-feeding and patients being over-medicated.

Among the claimants are:

  • A boy who has been left “traumatised” after being “drugged out of his mind” while staying at one of the hospitals
  • A girl who alleges she was groped by a member of staff and now needs more intensive inpatient care
  • A woman who says she was “forced to wee in bins” as there were not enough staff to take patients to the toilet

A mother of one claimant told The Independent: “It is diabolical, I hope [the claims] can stop them from doing any more damage because it is just awful. Our beautiful girl has just been so ruined by them.”

The legal action comes after The Independent published a series of investigations uncovering allegations of widespread abuse from more than 50 patients. It also included multiple claims from staff whistleblowers that staffing levels were so low patients were seriously harmed.

This newspaper also revealed a number of police investigations have been launched against the hospitals, including one into the death of a 14-year-old girl at the site in Maidenhead – now known as Taplow Manor – in February 2022 and a separate probe into an alleged rape of a child patient at the same unit.

Watchdog the Care Quality Commission has also launched a criminal probe into the death of the 14-year-old over alleged safety failures by Active Care Group, which now runs the hospital.

Solicitors at Hutcheon Law said they were receiving at least three negligence enquiries a week since The Independent revealed allegations of widespread abuse across multiple hospitals.

The firm said it has at least 32 clients who are set to mount clinical negligence claims, involving care allegations previously exposed by The Independent.

The claims cover periods when the hospitals were operated by different companies including Elli Investments and Active Care Group.

In a statement to The Independent, Mark McGhee, a partner at the law firm, said: “We have instructions to pursue claims against what was the Huntercombe Group for over 30 clients.

“Notifications have been given on six claims and we are in the process of providing details of the other claims to the relevant parties.”

Police are investigating the death of a child at Taplow Manor in Maidenhead in February 2022

One woman involved said her son, who was at Taplow Manor under the care of Active Care Group, was “drugged out of his mind” when he was a patient there. Her son reported being “jabbed in the neck” by a staff member, and allegedly saw porn being played on a communal TV screen.

She said her son had been left “traumatised” by his experience at the hospital and now says he “would rather die than go to a hospital again” if he gets ill.

Another woman, whose teenage daughter was recently discharged from Active Care Group’s Ivetsey Bank Hospital, in Stafford, made a report to the police over an alleged sexual assault after she claimed a staff member groped her. The police have since dropped the probe.

According to the woman, her daughter was not offered any therapy to help her while at Ivetsey Bank. She claimed she was able to escape the hospital, take multiple overdoses of paracetamol and suffered such bad injuries from self-harm that “she looked like a burns victim”.

Another woman, aged 23, who was at Huntercombe from 2014-16, said she once passed out after being given three times the recommended dose of medication at the hospital. She also claims she received sexually inappropriate messages from a care worker after she was discharged.

“We were having to wee in bins because there was never enough staff to take us,” she told The Independent.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Active Care Group said: “We have only been notified of one claim which is related to Four Seasons Health Care and not to Active Care Group. There are no further claims that have been notified.” It declined to comment on any of the allegations.

Active Care Group closed children’s services at its Taplow Manor hospital in May after the NHS paused admissions due to care concerns. But it is set to open for adults, despite the issues raised, due to a loophole in the law that means NHS England and the watchdog the CQC are powerless to stop it.

A group of 100 current and former patients and their families told The Independent that the thought of the hospital reopening for adults has caused “unimaginable trauma” among the young people who fear they could be admitted to the hospital as an adult.

The campaign group, called First Do No Harm, told The Independent: “To hear it’s reopening as an adult service has both thwarted people’s opportunity to heal and, now that many previous patients are turning 18, brought about unimaginable terror. Many are still unwell due to the impact of trauma directly associated with their time in Taplow Manor. To be readmitted as an adult to the same place where they were abused and mistreated as a child has become, needlessly and undeservedly, a real possibility.”

Active Care Group said it was not forced to close its children’s service at the site and that it was a “commercial decision”.

Elli Investments Group, which previously owned The Huntercombe Group, said: “We regret that these hospitals and specialist care services, which were owned and independently managed by the Huntercombe Group, failed to meet the expected standards for high-quality care.” It declined to comment on any of the allegations made.

NHS England said: “The NHS has been working with Active Care Group to ensure the overwhelming majority of patients have been moved from Taplow Manor to other clinically appropriate services. All decisions have been made in keeping with families’ wishes and in accordance with the needs of each child.

“The health service remains clear that all providers, whether NHS or independent, must provide safe, high-quality care and deliver on the commitments in their contracts, while we continue to work closely with CQC to monitor, identify and take appropriate action where it is needed.”

The news comes after the group’s under-pressure CEO resigned, to pursue a “plural career”, after months of mounting scrutiny.

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