A MENTAL health hospital in Darlington has been placed in special measures after an inspection raised concerns over patients’ safety.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) carried out an unannounced inspection of the Priory Hospital Middleton St George over two days from September 20.

The 105-bed hospital, run by Affinity Healthcare Limited, cares for adults with complex mental health issues, including personality disorders.

It had previously been rated Outstanding following an inspection two years earlier in September 2018.

The latest inspection was prompted by notifications from the service indicating a high incidence of people self-harming, as well as numerous whistleblowing referrals regarding staffing levels, support from managers for staff and concerns about safety.

Before the inspection, the hospital’s leaders committed to making improvements to prevent people self-harming.

However, the CQC received information indicating that self-harm continued to occur.

The inspection found that the service did not have enough permanent staff and was heavily dependent on agency workers who did not always have the right training for their roles.

Inspectors also found that observation records were not always compliant with policies, and gaps in governance processes prevented leaders from identifying problems.

However, inspectors found that staff did respond to risk following incidents. Staff also managed people’s medication safely.

The hospital must now make several improvements, including ensuring that is staffed appropriately and that observation records are completed in line with policies.

If there is insufficient progress, the CQC will use its enforcement powers further to ensure people’s safety.

Dr Kevin Cleary, CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health, said: “Our latest inspection of Priory Hospital Middleton St George found that the hospital was not ensuring patient safety.

“Patients told us that staff were overstretched, and we found that there were not enough appropriately skilled nursing and medical staff, who knew the patients, to keep them safe from avoidable harm.

“Many shifts were reliant on agency workers, who did not always have the training needed to fulfil their roles.”

Dr Cleary added: “Following the inspection, we used our enforcement powers to ensure patient safety.

“The service’s leaders know what must be done to ensure people receive care and treatment that meets standards that patients should be able to expect.

“We continue to monitor the service, including through future inspections, and will use our enforcement powers further if satisfactory improvements are not made.”

A spokesman for the hospital said: “We are clearly disappointed with this rating.

"The pandemic has posed considerable staffing challenges across the healthcare sector, especially in mental healthcare which already faced its own significant shortage in qualified, specialist permanent staff.

"We have taken immediate steps to address all the issues raised by the CQC, however.

"This has included additional measures around the recruitment of qualified staff, and further staff training.

"Agency workers undergo full compliance checks and inductions, and we will always address issues with the appropriate agency, and take action wherever necessary.

"We are glad to see that the CQC noted good performance in the area of risk assessment and medicine management

"We continue to work closely with our regulator and other external agencies to build on positive change in a bid to return the hospital to its previous ‘outstanding’ rating.”