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Ten suspended after abuse at Essex mental health unit

24 September 2020

Ten workers at an Essex mental health unit have been suspended after a CQC inspection revealed claims of disabled people being dragged, slapped and kicked within the facility.

CCTV footage from Yew Trees hospital in Kirby-le-Soken appears to show ‘physical and emotional abuse’. The footage has been handed to police. When the footage was filmed, the ten-bed unit was housing eight women with autism or learning disabilities.

Nearly half of 21 pieces of film viewed by inspectors show ‘examples of inappropriate staff behaviour, including the inappropriate use of restraint, visible displays of anger, and aggressive, abusive, disrespectful and inappropriate behaviour.

Dr Kevin Cleary, the CQC's mental health lead, said the failure of staff to raise the alarm "perpetuated abuse and allowed a culture of poor care to become established".

The hospital is part of the Cygnet group. Another of its hospitals in Brightlingsea was closed in June after inspectors rated it inadequate saying "patients and others were placed at risk of harm".

Hospital managers were investigating 27 members of staff, it said, and found "poor employment screening" among clinical support workers.

A spokeswoman for Cygnet Health Care told the BBC: "Cygnet has a zero-tolerance approach to any kind of abuse, which is why the well-established policies and processes we have in place to safeguard people in our care were backed up by the use of closed-circuit TV at Yew Trees.

"The safety and wellbeing of the people in our care is our absolute priority, and we are appalled by the actions of this small minority.”

DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “This is yet another appalling example of the abuse which, too often, occurs in closed institutions. Major questions need to be asked about why the CQC took so long to investigate, why local government and health commissioners weren’t aware of what was going on, and why Cygnet was not protecting the people in its care.

We need to see a national programme designed to support people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health problems move back into the community. The government gave £62m earlier this year to local authorities but it is not clear what is being done with this money. We need urgent action from central and local government, which is transparent.”