Children's mental health wards to close because of staff shortages
ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434
Children's wards at a mental health hospital will shut down after inspectors raised concerns about a lack of staff.
The two children's wards at the private Ellingham Hospital, near Attleborough, will close once new placements have been found for patients, NHS Improvement confirmed on Wednesday.
The NHS sends children with complex problems to the two 10-bed wards and the closure is another blow for mental health provision in Norfolk.
In a letter to staff, dated September 9, Lorraine Ahern, operations director at Priory Group, which runs the hospital, said the Care Quality Commission (CQC) had imposed conditions on the hospital after a visit earlier this month.
She blamed the difficulty of recruiting and retaining staff.
A spokesman for NHS Improvement said: "We, along with the CQC and local partners, have been concerned about the challenges facing the team at Ellingham Hospital due to difficulties recruiting staff and the complex needs of the young people they care for.
"The CQC decision to close the wards is based on a number of factors, not a specific incident."
A CQC spokesman said: "The CQC is taking action to protect the safety and welfare of the young people using this service."
In December 2017 another children's mental health hospital - Huntercombe at Buxton - also shut because of safety fears.
A spokesperson for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the closure raised concerns about where children would now be treated.
"It is shocking that yet more private mental health provision in Norfolk is being closed," they said.
"We are concerned that those who commission places for young people are not evaluating where they are sending young people thoroughly.
"What will happen now to these vulnerable young children? Will they receive the safe and local provision they deserve?"
The hospital is currently rated as "requires improvement" by the CQC following an inspection in June.
Inspectors found the hospital was hiring a lot of agency staff and accepted staff with no specialist training for children, but they added staff levels had improved.
Inspectors said staff on one children's ward reported feeling "burnt out" and "very beaten down".
A spokesman for the Priory Group said the hospital had decided in June to stop taking new patients to the two wards.
It then decided to close one ward but keep the other open.
But when the CQC visited in September it raised concerns about a high level of agency staff, which the spokesman said resulted in a "failure to report and manage incidents appropriately".
They added: "The safety of those entrusted to us is paramount, and all issues raised with us are taken extremely seriously."
The hospital's adult ward will remain open.