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£140k fine for Priory over suicide linked to 'unsafe practices'


A South London hospital has been fined £140,000 after an investigation found it failed to ensure the safety of a 21-year-old woman who took her own life ten years ago.

Francesca Whyatt, of Knutsford in Cheshire, was a patient on The Priory Hospital’s Emerald Ward in Roehampton from March 2013.

She was found unconscious after harming herself on September 25, 2013, a week after her 21st birthday, while a patient on a secure ward at the Priory Hospital Roehampton in south west London and died three days later.

Southwark crown court heard that the consultant psychiatrist in charge of her unit warned the clinic’s director 12 days earlier that it was in “chaos” and that he had “serious concerns” about patient safety.

A Times newspaper investigation in 2022 revealed that the Priory Group, which has 290 facilities across the country, has been repeatedly criticised for failings in the care of patients who died.

Analysis of inquest records, coroner’s reports and internal documents found common themes in failures in the care of at least 30 patients, including inadequate risk assessments and a lack of staff training or expertise.

In the most recent case, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Francesca Whyatt made her way to the lounge while the hospital responded to an incident involving other patients.

The investigation concluded that Priory Healthcare Limited failed to ensure that in-patient psychiatric treatment was carried out so patients were not exposed to health and safety risks.

Priory Healthcare Limited was fined £140,000 after it pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act by failing to ensure that Whyatt was not exposed to the risk of suicide in 2013.

Francesca’s brother, Daniel Whyatt,  paid tribute to his “truly selfless” and “special” sister.

He said: “The tragic and untimely death of our beloved sister has had a profound impact and has repercussions well beyond those conceivable to anyone outside our little family unit. It has ruined all our lives and has muddied the precious memories we have of Francesca.

“We should be able to talk about her fondly, with a smile. Instead, every mention of her is done so in anger and rage and it feels like being stabbed in the heart. Francesca had a proclivity for helping everyone she met and changed their lives in positive and meaningful ways, often at her own expense. She was a truly selfless, special and unique individual.”

The HSE’s head of operations for London, Paul Hems, said: “This incredibly sad case highlights the need for suitable and sufficient systems to be put in place to monitor patients.

“Employers should be aware that HSE will hold to account those who do not comply with health and safety legislation. It should also be noted that similar incidents which have taken place after April 2015 will be enforced by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).”