The Priory Ticehurst House.

In 2016, an inquest into the death of a 14-year-old mental health patient who tragically took her own life at Ticehurst House psychiatric hospital found that The Priory Group was guilty of “gross failings” at their specialist mental health unit for psychiatrically unwell children.

Amy El-Keria,14, was admitted to The Priory Ticehurst for mental health treatment and psychiatric care. In November 2012, the mentally unwell teen tragically took her own life on the high dependency ward, having spent the previous 2 months there as an inpatient.

Amy El-Keria, 14.

Amy El-Keria, 14, tragically took her own life at Priory Ticehurst House Psychiatric hospital in Sussex.

The Priory Group was consequently fined £300,000 for failing to meet stringent regulations and safety measures enforced by the CQC (Care Quality Commission).

Since the coroner’s inquest into Amy’s death, where The Priory Group were found to have more than 20 failings in the young teens care, it has emerged that The Priory Group paid their highest paid director a huge sum of £458,000 when he left his position that year. £158,000 more than the fine they received for their contribution to Amy’s devastating suicide whilst under their care.

Priory Group have stated that the payment to their director was not a “golden goodbye” and that it was made “strictly in accordance with relevant contractual provisions”

Amy El-Keria’s Death Was 100% Preventable

ITV aired a documentary investigating Amy’s death and The Priory Group on the 18th April 2019 – The Priory – Teenage Mental Health Uncovered. The documentary shockingly reveals that Amy’s death could have been prevented had safety precautions and regulations been adhered to at the time. The documentary further reveals that patients under The Priory Groups care are still at risk and not receiving appropriate levels of care.

The documentary is disturbing to watch to say the very least. ITV filmed Ticehurst House over a period of 3 months using an undercover reporter working as a healthcare assistant.

Upsetting footage is filmed of teenage girls regularly self-harming, a patient taking an overdose of sleeping tablets and another attempting suicide using a ligature. Staff are filmed taking no positive action to intervene.

At the other extreme footage is captured of an 18-year-old mental health patient who is forcibly restrained and put in a padded cell, where the restraint – enforced by 3 adult males continues for some period of time. The girl is heartbreakingly heard screaming and calling for her mother.

ITV’s documentary highlights that since Amy’s death in 2012 and despite 4 further deaths of children at other Priory mental health hospitals since, suicide by ligature can still be attempted at Priory’s high dependency unit in Sussex.

Priory Bosses Accused of Putting Profit Before Care

The Priory Group offer private mental health care and specialise in the treatment of childhood psychiatric illnesses and also in the treatment of adult addiction and mental health.

Priory Group’s psychiatric hospitals treat a wide range of mental health and psychiatric conditions including autistic spectrum disorder, ADHD, ADD, alcohol and drug addiction, attachment disorder, depression, drug-induced psychosis, eating disorders, psychosis, OCD, self-harming, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, Tourette’s and schizophrenia.

Specialising in the treatment of children and teenagers aged 8 to 18, The Priory Group undertake private admissions and admissions paid for by local children’s services – funded by the NHS’s local government.

Whilst The Priory group is a multi-million-pound company, their primary responsibility should be towards the care of the very vulnerable children and adults that they treat.

The ITV Ticehurst House documentary films a manager at a general staff meeting discussing financial profit and how they are not meeting their financial goals; giving the impression that profit is more important than the care of their mental health patients.

It is evident from the documentary that staffing levels were hugely inadequate at times and that staff working on the high dependency unit were not given the appropriate training within reasonable time scales.

The reporter who went undercover as a health care assistant was placed on Ticehurst’s high dependency unit within her first week of working there. This was despite it being made clear to managers that she was inexperienced in dealing with mental health patients and had not undergone the required restraint training.

Priory Leave Untrained Staff in Charge of High-Risk Patients

Throughout ITVs filming of the day to day occurrences at Ticehurst House, the reporter witnesses numerous incidents where the staff are less than empathetic towards the children on the unit.

Jesse, aged 16, who had given permission prior to being filmed during her inpatient stay at Ticehurst is captured self-harming through headbanging. Headbanging is a self-harm method adopted by severely mentally unwell patients who have no access to blades or sharp objects.

Prior to the incident, Jesse is filmed requesting a PRN medication, a medication that patients are able to request and be given as and when needed. PRN medications are often medications that help to calm patients when they are feeling distressed or agitated. Jesse is refused the medication and so proceeds to self-harm through head banging against a solid door frame.

ITV’s undercover reporter who is present at the time tries to defuse the alarming situation by talking to Jesse (she is unable to physically intervene as she has still not received the required restraint training). The reporter has been working on the high dependency unit for 2 months at this point. Unable to reach Jesse through talking, the reporter radios for urgent help.

The mental health nurse in charge of the unit attends the request for help. It is the same nurse that refused Jesse’s request for PRN medication. He appears completely unphased and unconcerned by Jesse’s repeated headbanging against a solid object – despite obvious cuts and bleeding.

Following his risk assessment of the situation, he deems that Jesse is not causing herself any real harm as she is banging herself on the side of her head as opposed to the front.

Jesse, who suffers from autism and is a known self-harmer eventually falls to the floor bleeding after 13 minutes of continuous headbanging. At this point, the nurse provides the originally requested PRN medication. Jesse is given no medical attention for her apparent and potentially unseen head injuries.

This is just one of the many highly disturbing instances of child self-harm and inappropriate care and neglect afforded by the staff filmed throughout the documentary.

Outside child psychologists who are asked to comment on some of the practices adopted by staff filmed at Ticehurst deem some of the methods “cruel”, “traumatic” and “neglectful”.

The children at this hospital have very complex needs, are extremely frightened and vulnerable and are separated from their homes, friends and families – who often live many miles away from the hospital’s location. At no point is footage shown of staff offering an empathetic and loving approach to the very mentally unwell children whom they care for.

Priory Ticehurst Allow Suicidal Teen A Football Scarf in Her Room

Amy El-Keria’s mother who is interviewed during the filming of The Priory – Teenage Mental Health Uncovered talks openly about how The Priory let her daughter down.

Mrs El-Keria entrusted Amy, 14, who suffered from complex mental health problems to the care of Ticehurst House. Funding was awarded for Amy’s treatment by her local CAMHS services. Mrs El- Keria feels she should have been given the opportunity to be there for her daughter but was given little information on Amy’s care.

Despite Amy threatening suicide numerous times, including earlier that fateful day, Amy was allowed a football scarf in her room. It was this football scarf that the troubled teen used as a ligature to hang herself with.

Amy’s mother was not informed of the numerous restraint situations and suicide threats that were recorded by The Priory in Amy’s case notes.

In response to Amy’s case, The Priory has stated:

“We are truly sorry that this very sad incident occurred and extend our deepest sympathies to Amy’s family.

“We continue to invest significantly in improving patient safety at Ticehurst.

“The hospital is making strong progress under new leadership and continues to be rated ‘good’ in all areas by the CQC.”

Amy’s Mother Makes It Her Mission to Keep Her Daughters Memory Alive By Seeking Justice

Despite receiving an admission of negligence from The Priory Group and a settlement, Amy’s mother still feels that justice has not been served in light of the events that took place leading up to Amy’s death.

She poignantly states in the interview that she will continue to fight for justice for Amy to keep her daughter’s memory alive.

On the day of Amy’s death, Mrs El- Keria received a call from The Priory Ticehurst to advise that Amy had been found with a ligature around her neck and that she should come to the hospital.

Amy’s mother made the two-hour long drive to the private hospital situated in rural Sussex, assuming that Amy was ok as the staff had found her in time. It was only on her arrival that the reality of the horrific situation became clear. Amy had sadly succeeded in taking her own life.

An inquest into Amy’s death found that she died of unintended consequences of a deliberate act, and that neglect from The Priory had contributed to this act.

It was recorded by the coroner’s office that The Priory Group had failed Amy inadequate monitoring, staff shortages and unsafe ligature points along with numerous other breaches in her care – including delaying the calling of emergency services.

Mental Health – End the Stigma

As this is mental health awareness week, PCP wanted to highlight the treatment of these suffering children and also raise awareness around the topic of mental health. Mental health illness is not a choice. Mental health patients deserve respect, empathy and dignity, just like anyone else.

As shocking as The Priory Groups treatment of Amy and other patients filmed in the documentary is, sadly this is not an isolated example. Many individuals suffering from mental health illness struggle to access the correct treatment and support in the private sector and on the NHS.

PCP feels that the reason patients are often not afforded successful treatment, even in specialised psychiatric care, is that individuals with mental health problems or dual diagnosis are still not treated as people first.

In treating mental health, the symptoms are often subdued with medication and there is a general lack of empathy and understanding especially when an individual displays challenging behaviour.

PCP regularly treat individuals suffering from dual diagnosis and have many years of experience in doing so. We understand the need for bespoke care planning, personalised treatment and follow up care once inpatient treatment has ended.

We also understand the need for supported living for individuals who suffer from dual diagnosis. We work by the ethic that those who suffer from a mental health illness in addition to an alcohol or drug problem are first and foremost people – people who have a right to have a say in their care. We believe that they require additional and continuous monitoring and support to enable them to get well and take positive steps forward in their life.

Fortunately, not all mental health services are representative of The Priory Group filmed in this harrowing documentary.

Please do not let this deter you from seeking professional help and talking to others if you are suffering.

Sources:

ITV – The Priory – Teenage Mental Health Uncovered

CAMHS: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/child-and-adolescent-mental-health-services-camhs/

The Guardian

BBC News