It is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that private treatment can also bring medical accidents and mistakes with a life-changing impact. This may be treatment delivered and paid-for privately by the patient or their medical insurance company, or it may be treatment delivered by the private sector to NHS patients in some circumstances.
One high-profile private provider is The Priory Group, which has numerous hospitals, including The Priory in Roehampton, southwest London. It specialises in mental health care and rehabilitation for patients with conditions that include stress, depression and addiction. Several tragic cases have hit the headlines in recent years concerning both privately and NHS funded care by The Priory Group.
Earlier this summer, an Inquest was told how a 14-year-old girl had died at a Priory facility in Sussex in 2012. The Inquest jury heard that the teenager was placed in the care of Priory and was at risk of suicide due to various mental issues. Sadly, she was found dead in her room not long after telling staff she wanted to end her life.
The jury found that the girl had died in a deliberate act but that neglect, staff shortages and poor training had contributed to the tragedy. Her mother later demanded that the NHS cancel its contract with The Priory Group, arguing that it was not caring for patients, as national press investigations had found evidence of similar cases in recent years.
Another tragic case involved a 17-year-old girl with a history of self-harming and other evidence of suicide risk. She was admitted to a Priory hospital at Cheadle, near Manchester, about 100 miles from her Humberside home. An expected 6-8 week stay turned into a nine-month hospitalisation that ended in her taking her own life.
An Inquest earlier this year heard that the girl should have been discharged some months earlier, but that poor management of the process contributed to a delay. The cause of death was strangulation with a length of wire that had been in a craft book given to the patient by hospital staff.
In some similar cases, lack of proper observation has meant that opportunities have been missed to prevent the death of someone whose mind is disturbed. Our own firm represented the family of Neil Carter, a 37-year-old married man from Surrey whose health issues included depression and misophonia, which is intolerance of certain sounds.
He was referred to The Priory at Roehampton for privately funded treatment. He was on an “amber” suicide watch and should have been observed by nursing staff every 15 minutes. Despite the Consultant’s care plan, Mr Carter left the hospital and travelled some miles to a tube station, where he was fatally injured by a train. At his inquest in 2013, the Coroner noted gross failures in his care at The Priory, particularly lack of basic observations, compounded by falsification of records.
In these three and other cases, the private-sector health care provider has stated that since the tragedies in question steps have been taken to improve systems, training or other contributing factors. That is reassuring up to a point, but upgraded procedures need to be maintained by all staff, so improvements have to be ongoing.
In complex medical situations where many things could possibly go wrong, it is vital to ensure that avoidable risks are eliminated and that lessons from mistakes are carried through into the future. NHS and private medicine both bring excellent results for most patients, but both sectors sometimes see unacceptable instances of error and neglect.