STAFF on mental health wards for children used an "unacceptable" amount of restraint, a report has found.

A report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said instances of restrictive practises used by services run by Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, had increased "significantly" since its last inspection in 2018.

The CQC visited six child and adolescent mental health wards (CAMHS) across two of the trust's sites – the Ferndene inpatient centre in Prudhoe, and the Alnwood unit at St Nicholas Hospital, in Newcastle.

The inspection in November was prompted by concerns raised by a whistle blower about staffing issues, patient safety and the quality of care and treatment offered to patients.

Inspectors found that the wards were sufficiently staffed by professionals who managed risks to patient safety effectively and found wards had a good track record on safety.

However, instances of restrictive practices – including the use of belts and cuffs to restrain patients who were exhibiting behaviour which endangered themselves and others – had increased significantly.

There had been 241 uses of mechanical restraint in 2019/20.

Dr Kevin Cleary, CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health, said: “Our inspection found that the trust’s child and adolescent mental health wards had enough doctors and nurses to provide safe and effective care.

“However, it was concerning to find that there has been a significant increase in the use of restraint of children, which is unacceptable.

"It is the responsibility of the leadership in the organisation to ensure that there is a significant improvement in this situation and they need to provide ongoing evidence that the use of restraint is improving.

“The trust should be able to reduce its use of restraint by making better use of debriefings following instances where restrictive practices have been used, to explore other approaches to supporting patients.

“Following the inspection, we reported our findings to the trust. We continue to monitor it closely to ensure patient’s receive safe and effective care and treatment.”

The trust has been told to make one improvement to comply with regulations.

The trust said it was "committed" to reducing levels of restraint.

Chief executive John Lawlor said: “We welcome the publication of this report by the Care Quality Commission who hold us to rigorous standards of patient care and safety.  We take all concerns extremely seriously and will now thoroughly review the findings to ensure plans are in place for improvement.  We are committed to reducing levels of restraint.

“As highlighted in the report, our staff routinely assess and manage risks to patients and attempt to use de-escalation to manage incidents, however we accept that the levels of restraint in our services are higher than we would like.

“Work is underway to ensure that the required improvements to debrief processes are implemented, and we have already seen an improvement.

“We are however pleased to note that the CQC recognises that in many respects these services are delivered to a safe and high standard by well-staffed teams.  Most importantly, the inspection found that young people in our services felt safe in our care and were supported by staff.

“As well as putting improvement plans in place we will continue to build on the ongoing work to reduce restrictive interventions, in particular our Talk 1st programme, a trust-wide initiative which aims to decrease restraint and aggression on our wards.”