NORTH Essex’s mental health trust ignored warnings to protect suicidal patients, a report has revealed.

The Care Quality Commission has rated North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust as “requiring improvement”, however it received the worst grade - inadequate - for safety.

Dr Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector of hospitals, said despite assurances over the last five years that things would improve, they had not.

During the four-day inspection last sumer, one patient attempted to strangle themselves.

In total there were 25 incidents relating to the use of a ligature attached to a fixed object.

The report said: "This was in spite of serious concerns identified as part of our ongoing inspections.

"Two deaths due to self-ligature had happened over the past 12 months. There were a number of similar deaths in the previous years.

“The trust had made ligature risk assessments and had plans to address these but there were still an unacceptable number of ligature risks identified."

The trust runs a number of inpatient units including the Lakes mental health unit, in Turner Road, Colchester, the Peter Bruff ward, at Clacton hospital, and the Linden Centre in Chelmsford.

Dr Lelliott said improvements have not been made despite assurances in the past five years.

He said: “Each time we have identified problems; for example regarding safety at the Linden Centre and the Lakes.

"Each time the trust had given assurances and then has not done so. "

The report says senior managers and directors could not explain why the trust had not addressed the problems.

Other problems highlighted included failing to provide segregated accommodation for men and women at a number of units, including the Peter Bruff ward.

However, the trust was praised in some areas including for its “community transformation programme” which started in April last year.

Patients confirmed these changes led to improved community mental health care and treatment.

The morale of frontline staff was described as consistently good.

The Care Quality Commission will carry out further inspections to check what progress has been made.

North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust employs more than 2,000 staff working across 78 sites serving a population of more than 1million.

Chief Executive of the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (NEP), Andrew Geldard said: “While we are naturally disappointed at our overall rating, ‘requires improvement’, from the CQC, we have always viewed their inspection as a development opportunity, opening our services to external, expert scrutiny.  This was, indeed, our first comprehensive inspection by the CQC looking at our services as a whole.

“While much of the discussion around the report will focus on our in-patient adult wards, where the inspectors found issues regarding the quality of the environment, the range of activities for service users and care planning, we must remember they also reported many areas of good practice and received many positive comments about care from service users and carers. Indeed, more than 60% of their findings rated the Trust as ‘Good’ and one was ‘Excellent.’

“However, the CQC’s concerns are a call to action for the Trust and we have already begun a programme of improvements to our patient environment which will cost more than £1m. We have made changes to our care planning process to ensure it is focused on the individual and are improving the range and number of activities for patients. More work that addresses all the CQC’s comments is either in progress or planned.  I would assure our patients and their families and friends that improving these areas are our overriding priority in the coming months. 

“While the process has been highly challenging, it has been very rewarding and has given us a clear direction to take across all our units. We are confident this will bring real benefits to patients and carers and provides the Trust with a strong base from which to move forward.”