TWO companies have been fined a combined total of more than £400,000 after staff working at a South Wales mental health hospital were subjected to violent attacks by patients over a three-year period.
Parkcare Homes (No.2) Limited and Priory Central Services Limited, both part of The Priory Group, pleaded guilty after failing to manage risks to care staff and patients from violence and aggression.
Cardiff Magistrates Court heard that Priory Hospital in Aberdare – a facility owned by Parkcare Homes (No.2) Limited – was a specialised institution for people with complex mental health, behavioural, and learning issues. At any one time, there were up to 12 in-patients being cared for by the staff.
Over a three-year period between 2014 and 2017, there were incidents of violence and aggression towards both care staff and patients, resulting in serious injuries, including loss of consciousness and permanent scarring. Due to the frequency and severity of incidents, concerns were formally raised by senior management of the hospital in November 2016 to Priory Central Services Limited, which was responsible for the provision of training and equipment and the employment of staff at Aberdare. Priory Central Services Limited failed to take prompt and appropriate action to rectify the deficiencies, and incidents were allowed to continue.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there were no suitable and sufficient risk assessments carried out, and the equipment and environment were not fit to diffuse violent situations. Staff were not provided with adequate information or training to cope with patients with aggressive traits.
The investigation also found staff were not given the appropriate personal protective equipment, including bite-resistant clothing and personal safety alarms.
There were no post-incident debrief sessions carried out with staff involved or even when individuals returned from sick leave following an injury. No investigations were carried out of incidents to establish what had happened to identify lessons learned despite repeated serious and significant injuries being caused.
The companies were fined at a sentencing hearing on 26 July 2023 after entering guilty pleas at an earlier date. Parkcare Homes (No.2) Limited of Fifth Floor, 80 Hammersmith Road, London, W14 8UD pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) & 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Priory Central Services Limited of the Fifth Floor, 80 Hammersmith Road, London, W14 8UD pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
Parkcare Homes (No.2) Limited was fined £363,000 and ordered to pay £43,656 in costs. Priory Central Services Limited was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £21,828 in costs.
After the hearing, HSE Principal Inspector Anne Marie Orrells said: “Priory is a leading independent provider of mental healthcare and adult social care in the UK. It is a long-established company, and despite repeated warnings about systemic failures, it failed to prevent its staff being injured.
“Care providers should have adequate arrangements to effectively plan and organise preventative measures to prevent violence towards staff and other patients.”
A Priory spokesperson said: “We apologise unreservedly to the staff who were injured at Aberdare Hospital prior to its closure six years ago. We accept that there were shortcomings in ensuring risk assessments were up to date, and in providing the right training and protective equipment. We fully support the Government’s Learning Disability and Autism Programme and, since January 2022, we have successfully supported 58 people to move out of hospital and into homes in a community setting better suited to their needs. In these homes, we have clear behaviour support plans to manage biting risk and always provide bite-resistant clothing to staff required to wear it. We have improved our staff safety training across the organisation and seen a 69% decrease in reportable incidents in this area between 2017 and 2022.”
Commenting on the news that companies running a mental health unit have been fined more than £400,000 after care workers suffered bite attacks from inpatients, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Social Care, Gareth Davies MS said:
“With the ongoing staffing crisis within the care sector in Wales, it is crucially important that we do everything to retain and recruit staff.
“People take carers for granted until the moment they need them. It continues to disappoint me that people don’t appreciate the sheer hard work and dedication of those working in the care sector.
“These shocking instances of workers being assaulted cannot be allowed to continue. Staff need to feel safe, protected and appreciated for all the hard work they do.”