Healthcare staff pictured asleep while on watch for suicidal patients

Healthcare staff are pictured asleep while they’re meant to be keeping an eye on suicidal patients.

These shocking images capture the growing crisis in mental health services.

The low-paid workers were given the life-or-death job at NHS and private clinics raking in millions a year in NHS contracts.

Now worried patients and families have passed the evidence to us because of our Time to Change campaign to improve mental health services.

The pictures are now being investigated by a health watchdog.

One parent said: “No one seems to know what’s going on at night.” Another added: “You dread waking up to a call that something terrible has happened.”

Two of the three healthcare assistants were doing agency shifts and have since been barred by the providers.

Former care minister Norman Lamb said the images were “deeply shocking”. “Families have a right to expect loved ones will be safe in hospital,” he said.

“These…facilities will charge the taxpayer thousands a week to keep a vulnerable person safe. But many depend on agency workers who may not have been well enough trained or supervised.”

One of the disturbing pictures was taken at the privately run Potters Bar Clinic in Hertfordshire. 

The secure mental health unit treats teens aged 13 to 18.

Last week, Emma Duggan, 18, took a photo of the napping worker supposed to be watching over her.

Her mum Lisa Powell, 48, a teaching assistant from Balham, South London, said: “My daughter has tried to kill and harm herself many times.

“She is in a clinic because she is a danger to herself. When she showed me photos of her carer sleeping at the end of her bed I was appalled.

“I haven’t slept properly at night since. You dread a phone call.”

The clinic is run by Elysium Healthcare, a private firm with NHS mental health contracts worth millions a year.

Yet a job ad for healthcare assistants posted by Elysium this month advertises a salary of just £18,000.

Healthcare assistant salaries in the NHS can be as low as £13,000, rising to just £20,750 with a typical hourly wage of £7.70, according to recruitment website

A second picture of a sleeping worker was taken earlier this month at the NHS-run Linden Centre in Chelmsford, Essex – by a suicidal 26-year-old woman.

The patient told us: “He dozed off in front of me. It’s frightening when the person whose job it is to prevent you killing yourself falls asleep.

“I have tried to hang myself and cut myself over the 10 years I’ve been in and out of mental health units. Luckily for me I wasn’t having a low mood.”

She says a manager took her phone away after learning she’d taken the photo, but a matron returned it to her.

A third photo shows another worker asleep on watch over a 25-year-old rape victim with PTSD.

A patient at the Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal in Manchester, she was taken to the city’s Royal Infirmary with an allergic reaction.

Two Priory care workers were assigned to travel with her as she was a high suicide risk.

One – employed by agency Achieve Care Solutions – nodded off.

The patient’s mum said: “After four hellish years my daughter is slowly recovering, but she has had many opportunities to kill herself while staff sleep at night.

“This time she thought she’d show what goes on.”

Rising numbers of young people are being diagnosed with conditions like depression and bipolar disorder. And soaring rates of teenagers are being hospitalised.

Yet despite the increased demand, funding in many parts of the country is being cut in real terms and hospitals don’t have enough resources to provide safe care.

The Care Quality Commission said it would be launching an investigation after viewing the photos.

Dr Paul Lelliott, CQC’s deputy chief inspector of hospitals, said: “Mental health inpatient services should ensure all regular and agency staff are qualified, competent and skilled to work with people with mental health conditions.”

A TUC report on mental health services says they fail to meet rising demand.

It claims in the last five years patients in England have risen by a third – 540,000 – while the number of mental health nurses, doctors and beds has fallen.

Elysium Healthcare said they have a “zero-tolerance” approach to staff who fail to comply with “clear employment policies”.

The firm said any worker sleeping on duty would be sacked. Essex Partnership University Trust – which runs the Linden Centre –  said the sleeping assistant, hired through Medilink Consulting, was on his first shift with them and would be banned.

Nobody at Medilink Consulting was available for comment. The Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal said sleeping on duty was “gross misconduct” and they carried out night checks on staff.

Achieve Care Solutions said the worker concerned had been sacked.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Mental health and expanding the workforce are key priorities for this Government, which is why our NHS Long Term Plan includes an extra £2.3billion per year by 2023/24 to further transform mental health services.”

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