Four “unexpected” deaths at NHS trust operating in Tower Hamlets

Four patients died on a ward within East London NHS Foundation Trust between December 2016 and July

Four patients died on a ward within East London NHS Foundation Trust between December 2016 and July last year. Picture: PA/Lynne Cameron - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Four “unexpected” deaths occurred in seven months on a mental health ward with more than the recommended number of beds.

A health watchdog report found a “near-miss incident” relating to “serious self-harm” at a second ward operated by East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT), which provides services to patients in Tower Hamlets.

“The loss of life of any patient is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the family and friends of those individuals,” said the trust’s chief executive, Dr Navina Evans.

“We have been focussed on learning lessons following these incidents and are encouraged that our progress has been recognised by inspectors. We will continue to work to improve how care is provided and to embed improvements across our services.”

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) carried out an inspection following the deaths on an all-male ward between December 2016 and July last year.

The report, based on visits to three locations in the East of England, found some wards continued to have bed numbers exceeding the Royal College of Psychiatrist’s recommended maximum of 16.

The ward where the patients died, Ash ward in Oakley Court hospital, Luton, has reduced its beds from 27 to 19, inspectors said.

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They gave no further details on the deaths, aside from the coroner was investigating them “at the time of the inspection”.

Despite patients being routinely searched when they returned to the ward after leave, the CQC said the “near-miss” on Luton and Central Bedfordshire Mental Health Unit’s all-female Crystal ward raised concerns about access to contraband items.

“During the inspection we heard about a blade being found on Crystal ward and plastic bags being found on [nearby] Jade ward,” the report said.

The watchdog said security breaches were not being consistently reported by staff, fewer than three quarters of whom had taken basic and immediate life support training.

Appropriate checks were not always made after “rapid tranquilisation” of patients, the CQC added.

Deputy chief inspector Dr Paul Lelliott said the trust “has learnt from serious incidents and made some improvements”, but wanted “to see care for patients improve further” at the next inspection.