Faster improvements needed at Abraham Cowley Unit

16th November 2018

There are serious problems with how the NHS in Surrey treats people with serious mental illness, a problem lacking public scrutiny, according to Healthwatch Surrey.


During a visit to a mental health hospital in Chertsey, the Abraham Cowley Unit, the independent watchdog for health and social care found inconsistent staffing levels and problems with the hospital environment which were compromising the wellbeing of patients.


Commenting on the visit, Healthwatch Surrey’s Deputy CEO Matthew Parris said:


“Patients are living and sleeping in dormitories with other people who also have a serious mental illness. A patient told us how this arrangement meant that they ‘feel in danger and can’t sleep’, another described their stay at the unit as a ‘nightmare’.”


The Care Quality Commission have visited the unit three times since 2016 and found regulatory breaches on each visit, the last two inspections having been prompted by deaths related to the service.


Mr Parris commented that:


“It’s an environment which is challenging, and one which people know very little about. There’s no commonly published data about patient experience or death rates in these services. Our volunteers have now brought the experience of patients out into the open.”


“Surrey and Borders Partnership have acknowledged the problems and we’ve been told that whilst some immediate changes have been made, some improvements will take several years. This is far too long for the patients and families that we met. More needs to be done by the people overseeing and planning these services to speed up improvements.”


Prof Jonathan Warren, Chief Nurse and Deputy Chief Executive of Surrey & Borders Partnership commented:


“We take this report very seriously and have worked collaboratively with Healthwatch to address the report’s findings – which reflect those of our own recent reviews and investigations, and those of our regulators.”


“Over the last six months we have been widening our recruitment campaign to fill any vacancies. We have also set-up an improvement board, chaired by our Chief Operating Officer, to resolve the immediate issues and to make sure the changes are sustained over time. These include creating a quiet room on the wards, so people have more choice of surroundings, adding new curtains to each dormitory to improve privacy, installing new lighting to brighten the wards, and creating a bathroom in addition to the existing shower rooms. Additionally, we will shortly be installing mobile phone chargers, so people can charge their own phones and individual safes for the storage of personal items.


“In the longer term, we are developing a large-scale refurbishment programme for the Unit to make sure we provide modern, fit-for-purpose facilities that promote safety, privacy and dignity. This will include the provision of single bedrooms with individual bathrooms and more therapeutic areas. This work is planned to commence next year.”


Healthwatch Surrey is working with local politicians to investigate the issue further and would like to hear from people who have experience, good or bad, of mental health services.