More than 30 staff suspended from NHS hospital over allegations of falsifying records and harming patients

Exclusive: Suspensions come after inquiry into allegations of ‘serious conduct’ at Highbury Hospital in Nottinghamshire

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 23 January 2024 19:10 GMT
Doctor explains how NHS hospital corridors are used as part of emergency department

More than 30 members of staff at a major NHS mental health hospital have been suspended over claims of serious misconduct, including falsifying medical records and mistreating patients, The Independent has learnt.

The suspensions are a result of an internal investigation into allegations of “serious conduct” at Highbury Hospital in Nottinghamshire, which employs hundreds of staff.

The suspended employees include registered professionals – a category that includes doctors, nurses and nursing associates – and non-registered healthcare professionals, which covers healthcare assistants and non-clinical staff.

It comes just a week after the same trust – Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust – was issued with a warning by the safety watchdog over concerns about the safety of patients at Rampton Hospital, a high-security institution whose former patients include Charles Bronson and Ian Huntley.

In an email leaked to The Independent, the trust told staff: “We are saddened to report that over recent weeks it has been necessary to suspend over 30 colleagues due to very serious conduct allegations.

“These allegations have included falsifying mental health observations, as well as maltreatment of patients in our care.

“We hope we have your understanding in taking action when the conduct of colleagues falls so far outside of what patients deserve.”

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The Care Quality Commission (CQC) told The Independent that it was alerted to an internal investigation at Highbury Hospital at the end of November.

The safety watchdog said it carried out a pre-planned inspection of the hospital in early December, but cannot confirm whether any further action is being taken against the hospital until the inspection report is published.

The trust declined to say whether it is investigating any patient deaths or instances of harm in relation to the staff suspensions. It also refused to reveal whether it has informed the police or professional regulators about the alleged incidents.

The news comes as the Health and Safety Investigation Branch is set to launch a national inquiry into mental health care in England following a series of reports by The Independent last year.

Reports included investigations into “systemic abuse” in a group of children’s mental health hospitals run by the Huntercombe Group, one of which has since closed and is subject to a police investigation following the death of a child.

Launching the review last year, the then health secretary Steve Barclay said: “This investigation will be wide-ranging and will help us tackle inappropriate out-of-area placements, improve care for young people with mental health needs, develop safer staffing models, and learn from tragic deaths.

“I’d like to thank The Independent for raising awareness of this important issue.”

In its report about Rampton, the CQC found that the hospital did not have enough staff to keep patients safe. The commission also found that observations intended to protect patients from self-harm were not being recorded or carried out by staff in line with the guidance.

According to board papers provided by local NHS organisations, the Nottinghamshire trust is currently under “enhanced surveillance” due to concerns of “complex and widespread quality and safety challenges”.

The trust has also commissioned an independent review into its patient safety issues, according to board papers from November.

Rampton Hospital, another facility run by Nottinghamshire Healthcare, has been rated ‘inadequate’ by the CQC
Rampton Hospital, another facility run by Nottinghamshire Healthcare, has been rated ‘inadequate’ by the CQC (PA)

Meanwhile, according to emails from Nottinghamshire Healthcare to staff in the last two months, the trust is facing major financial challenges.

In November, the trust sent staff an email, seen by The Independent, that warned that the financial situation was “extremely serious” and may force leaders into making “unpalatable decisions”.

It said: “This is happening up and down the country as we can’t rely on additional funds from the Treasury ... The trust has never faced this severity of financial challenge before.”

As part of measures to control finances, the trust stopped all discretionary spending and implemented a control on filling vacancies.

It said: “Vacancy controls are a national requirement for those organisations struggling to break even.”

A trust spokesperson said: “Nottinghamshire Healthcare is committed to ensuring we provide the very best and safest care we possibly can for our patients. We take any allegations against members of staff very seriously. Where there is an allegation that staff conduct has fallen below what we would expect for our patients, we will investigate fully and fairly and sometimes it is necessary to suspend staff members to enable this.

“Unfortunately, over recent weeks it has been necessary to suspend over 30 colleagues across the organisation whilst investigations take place. As investigations into these allegations are ongoing we are unable to comment further.”

Local NHS commissioners, who are responsible for overseeing Nottinghamshire Healthcare, said they were aware of the suspensions and allegations but could not comment further while investigations were still under way.

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