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13.06.18

Southern Health regulations lifted as trust improves since patient deaths

NHS Improvement (NHSI) has lifted some of the regulatory requirements placed on the once-struggling Southern Health NHS FT over two years ago after the provider demonstrated significant improvements in all areas.

The troubled foundation trust has had a difficult journey for the past few years after admitting responsibility for the death of 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk as a result of “multiple systemic and individual failures.”

It was also accused of failing to look into more than 1,000 patient deaths, an issue which was then nationally investigated under health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt’s orders.

Southern Health’s learning disability services were then taken over by Oxford Health NHS FT and the troubled provider underwent a number of senior-level job changes, including its chief executive and chair.

The trust was fined a whopping £2m by the Health and Safety Executive following the deaths of both Connor and Teresa Colvin, a different patient who died at a mental health facility in 2012. It also pleaded guilty after a third patient suffered “life-changing” injuries after falling from the roof of one of its buildings, for which it had to pay a further £125,000 fine.

But the tide finally seems to be turning, with NHSI this week announcing its decision to lift “some of the regulatory undertakings” that were put on the trust two years ago.

Following the publication of the independent Mazars report into a number of serious failings in the way the foundation trust investigated deaths of vulnerable patients, the national regulator took action, requiring Southern Health to implement every single recommendation in the report.

An independent audit of the trust’s improvement so far, carried out by Niche Health and Social Care Consulting and Grant Thornton LLP during 2017, found “real progress” in the way Southern Health investigates and reports patient deaths, as well as involved family members in this difficult process.

While more can still be done to “constantly improve services,” the review uncovered a culture of increased openness and transparency.

“The trust has made further positive changes that provide additional confidence that the time is right to lift some of the regulatory requirements in place,” NHSI explained in a statement.

“The board of the trust has greater clinical representation and involves more mental health expertise than before ensuring that patient care is at the centre of every decision.”

Anne Eden, executive regional managing director for the south east at NHS England and NHSI, reiterated that it is right that the trust was held to account for its well-document historic failings – but argued it has made “encouraging progress.”

Nevertheless, the trust will still be subject to regulatory action to ensure it maintains this momentum and strives to continuously provide the highest standards of care.

“We will continue to work with the new leadership team at the trust to drive improvement, deliver for local patients and build the confidence of the local community,” added Eden.

Dr Nick Broughton, Southern Health’s chief executive, said NHSI’s decision reinforces the “very encouraging” findings from the independent audit and demonstrates that the trust is “making genuine progress in changing the culture of the organisation to one that continuously improves and learns.”

“Improving the quality of our services remains our top priority and we are embracing a substantial transformation programme which will see us take on new approaches and methodologies to improve our services and the care we provide,” continued Broughton.

“We know we still have more to do and there will be further challenges ahead, but I firmly believe we are well on the way to creating an organisation that our patients and their families deserve.”

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