The Priory Group charged with criminal offences over death of patient
The Priory Group has been charged by the Care Quality Commission (‘CQC’) with two criminal offences after the death of inpatient, Matthew Caseby, who absconded from one of their mental health hospitals and was later hit bit a train.
An inquest jury last year found that neglect by the hospital had contributed to Mr Caseby's death after he was left unattended in the courtyard of the hospital. The CQC then launched an investigation and following that, has charged the Priory Group with two criminal offences under the Health and Social Care Act 2008. The Priory Group has been charged with failing to take all reasonable steps to stop a patient from being exposed to avoidable harm and exposing a patient to a significant risk of harm. The specific requirements for a service provider in respect of these offences are contained in the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014, with the relevant Regulations being Regulation 12 (failing to take all reasonable steps to stop a patient from being exposed to avoidable harm) and Regulation 22(2)(b) (exposing a service user to a significant risk of harm).
The intention of Regulation 12 is to prevent service users from receiving unsafe care or treatment and to prevent people from avoidable harm or a risk of harm.
This Regulation requires care providers to provide care and treatment in a safe way for service users. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Carrying out risk assessments where appropriate;
- Doing all that is reasonably practicable to mitigate against any risks;
- Ensuring those providing care and treatment are suitably qualified, competent and have the skills and experience to do so safely;
- Ensuring that any relevant premises are safe to use and used in a safe way;
- Ensuring that any equipment being used to provide care and treatment is safe and is used in a safe way;
- Ensuring there are sufficient quantities of equipment and medicines to ensure the safety of service users and to meet their needs;
- Proper and safe medicine management;
- Proper infection control; and
- Proper planning with other persons responsible for the care and treatment of service users to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the service users.
Regulation 22(2)(b) then sets out that an offence is committed where there is a failure to comply with Regulation 12 and that failure results in a service user being exposed to a significant risk of such harm occurring.
The onus will be on the CQC to prove that in this case, the Priory Group did not take all reasonable steps to avoid Mr Caseby being exposed to harm by failing to comply with the requirement(s) of Regulation 12 and then as a result of that failure, Mr Caseby was exposed to a significant risk of such harm occurring.
If found guilty of these offences, the penalty is an unlimited fine.
The Priory Group was due to enter a plea at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on 24 November 2023, although the outcome of that hearing has not yet been reported.
Who is the Prosecutor?
The CQC is bringing this prosecution against the Priory Group. However, the Health and Safety Executive (‘HSE’) and local authorities (‘LAs') also have responsibilities for dealing with health and safety incidents arising in health and adult social care settings. There is a Memorandum of Understanding that deals with who is responsible for bringing enforcement action in different circumstances.
The CQC is the lead inspection and enforcement body under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 for safety and quality of treatment matters of service users and patients in receipt of health or adult social care services from a provider registered with the CQC.
The HSE/LAs are the lead inspection and enforcement bodies for health and safety matters of service users and patients in receipt of health or adult social care services from a provider registered with the CQC.
The HSE/LAs are the lead inspection and enforcement bodies for health and safety matters involving workers, visitors and contractors, irrespective of registration.
Such prosecutions by the CQC usually arise from tragic circumstances and thankfully such cases are rare. However, the CQC has made it clear that it is not afraid to take action when it believes it is warranted. Such cases can be complex, so it is important to see legal advice at the very earliest opportunity when allegations such as these are raised.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.