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Scandal-hit Southern Health trust must improve, inspectors say.


A scandal-hit NHS trust where staff felt pressure to admit patients on to wards when it was unsafe, must improve, health and care regulator inspectors have said.

Too few staff in some areas at Southern Health led to "low morale" and meant patients were "not always kept safe" or given "the required level of care", the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said in changing the trust’s rating from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’.

The CQC's report said it had "serious concerns" about safety on a ward for older people with mental health problems but added staff had made urgent improvements to reduce the number of beds and increase staffing levels.

Inspectors also found several strategies had been paused during the Covid-19 pandemic, and there was "still work to do" to bring the trust's clinical strategy and its wider strategy together in a way "that set out the direction clearly.”

During the inspection, the CQC examined six of the trust's core services and said two were good but four need to improve.

The trust's leadership was found to be "stable and capable" and had "knowledge, integrity and experience to perform their roles.”

The organisation was also found to have engaged well with patients, staff, equality groups, the public and local organisations.

Trust chief executive, Ron Shields, said he was "disappointed" with the rating but said staff were "encouraged" that inspectors had praised staff, its culture and senior leaders.

He said that the trust's "phenomenal" staff had worked hard during the pandemic but had been left "incredibly stretched in some areas.”

Ron Shields added that the trust was responding to staff pressures highlighted by the CQC and added: "as can be seen from the report, the trust provides many good services and will continue to improve in those areas identified by the CQC. We remain totally committed to providing the best possible care to our patients."

Last September (2022), an inquiry found the trust, which provides mental health, physical health and learning disability services across Hampshire, needed "continuing reform" after past failures.

The independent review was held after failures were found to have led to the deaths of five vulnerable patients between 2011 and 2015.

The first in a series of reports into Southern Health in 2015 revealed the trust failed to investigate hundreds of deaths. The scandal led to the chief executive and chairman at the time resigning.

The trust was also fined £2m due to failings in relation to two patients, including 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk who drowned in a bath following an epileptic seizure, while under the care of the trust in Oxfordshire, an area it covered at that time.