A police investigation has been launched into an alleged assault against an elderly patient with Alzheimer’s by NHS staff at the troubled East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust.
The Independent can reveal nurses and carers at the William Harvey Hospital have been suspended after being filmed by hospital security staff for eight minutes allegedly holding down the man’s arms and legs as well as his face while they inserted a catheter.
The trust has confirmed it has launched an investigation and alerted police after the incident on 15 December on the Cambridge J ward at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. A spokesperson “apologised unreservedly” for the incident and said it was being treated with the “utmost seriousness”.
A whistleblower spoke out to The Independent about the incident, fearing it was being covered up by the trust after staff were told “don’t discuss it, don’t refer to it at all”.
The senior clinician said they had decided to go public after the “horrific” incident because of the trust’s toxic culture and concerns for the welfare of other patients on wards.
News of the incident comes as the trust faces a verdict from care watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) next week, after a series of deaths and claims of a cover-up in maternity services following the death of seven-day-old baby Harry Richford. A coroner ruled he died as a result of neglect due to errors the hospital had been warned about years earlier in a report uncovered by Harry’s family.
It is alleged that the man was forcibly restrained by three members of staff, including a mix of nurses and carers, who called two hospital security guards to help them, something the source said was “a very unusual thing to do”.
As the man began to struggle, staff were said to have held him down by his arms and legs. One held the side of his head against a pillow leaving him unable to move.
During the incident one of the security staff, employed by Canterbury firm Right Guard, filmed what was going on and later that night informed the on-duty manager. After the eight-minute video was viewed by senior staff Kent Police were informed and staff were suspended pending a serious incident investigation.
It understood some staff have since returned to work but are restricted to non-clinical duties. One worker remains suspended.
Mary Tonbridge, former deputy chief operating officer at the trust, has been asked to interview staff as part of the investigation. She left the trust in the autumn of last year.
The investigation is said to extend to previous occasions on which the man was restrained. He has since been discharged and the trust said it has fully informed his family of the incident and the investigation.
Speaking to The Independent on condition of anonymity, the insider explained why they had become a whistleblower: “People were told there was an incident. We’ve been told don’t talk about it, don’t refer to it at all.
“It was a horrific incident. I’ve never heard of anything like it before and I am worried it is just going to be brushed under the carpet.”
Asked to describe the culture at the trust, the insider said: “Fear is how it is being run. If you say anything or if you disagree you’re not well thought of, it’s a case of keep your head down. The chief executive is really trying and very clear about where she wants to see the trust, with an open culture and honesty, but that is absolutely not the way the trust is run.
“There is a middle ground of leadership where people are horrible to each other and people below.”
They added that the trust had started to turn itself around after a damning CQC report in 2014 but said it had now gone backwards: “We are almost back to that and the fear of reporting [incidents] is just horrendous.”
Asked if they feared for other patients, they said: “Frontline staff are doing their very best but there just isn’t enough nurses on the medical wards and staff are being told to just do more and more.
“It’s really hard. It’s just so sad to be working in it.”
They said patients were often forced to be “boarded” on wards “sometimes for hours” without any beds meaning they had no dignity or privacy and staff had to work harder with more patients and a lack of staff.
“They don’t even have a table to eat lunch off. Staff can’t refuse, you can’t object or say it’s unsafe because you just get shouted down. So people stop saying anything, they keep their heads down to keep their job.”
A spokesperson for Kent Police said: “Kent Police is investigating an alleged assault of a man which is reported to have taken place on 15 December 2019 at William Harvey Hospital, Ashford. No arrests have been made at this stage. Enquiries are continuing.”
A spokesperson for the East Kent trust said: “We apologise unreservedly.
“Following a concern raised by a member of staff in December, we began an investigation into an incident involving the care of a patient. We are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness and reported it to the police.
“We also reported it to our regulators and are keeping the patient’s family informed of our investigation.
“We suspended a number of staff in order to facilitate the investigation which is currently ongoing.”