Scandal-hit hospitals accused of ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’ by dozens of patients

 (Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)

The owners of a group of privately-run children’s mental health hospitals are facing legal action by dozens of former patients, who claim they suffered inhuman and degrading treatment at the facilities.

Hospitals formerly run by The Huntercombe Group face at least 54 individual clinical negligence claims, The Independent can reveal.

Patients treated in several of the hospitals, now owned by Active Care Group, came forward to solicitors Hutchoen Law following several exposés by this publication, revealing allegations of “systemic abuse”.

Taplow Manor Hospital, formerly called The Huntercombe Hospital Maidenhead, which faces the most claims, was closed last year after joint investigations by The Independent and Sky News.

Documents submitted to Manchester Civil Court on Thursday, before Judge Nigel Bird, who will decide whether permission is granted for claims to be brought, revealed allegations including:

  • Assault and battery, relating to the inappropriate and unnecessary forced feedings and physical restraint;

  • False imprisonment

  • Breaches of the Human Rights Act including prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment

Defendants listed in the submissions are Huntercombe (No.12) Limited, Huntercombe (No.13) Limited, Huntercombe (Granby one) limited and Active Young People Limited – the latter is run by Active Care Group.

Representative for the claimants Naizi Fetto KC said the consequences of alleged breaches have been “devastating and permanent” for some, and revealed some patients’ claims of assault, sexual assault and rape.

He said one claimant had died before the action could be brought.

Claims are also being proposed against doctors at The Huntercombe Group hospitals.

The skeleton arguments brought by claimants said the former owner of the hospitals, The Huntercombe Group, allegedly has £800 million in unpaid debts and so would not be able to pay the £250,000 excess on its insurance policies, should the claims be successful.

Hutcheon Law has argued liability would have been transferred over from The Huntercombe Group to Active Care Group when it took over the running of the hospitals in 2021.

Active Care Group has challenged the submission that liability was transferred over. It has submitted witness statements in response to the submissions.

In arguments to the court, Huntercombe Group said submissions by the claimants were not sufficient to “enable any analysis of the legal and factual basis on individual claims” and “vague and incomplete”.

Nine claims relate to the period after ACG took over the hospitals and four relate to claims which “straddle” the transfer date from Huntercombe Group.

The claimants’ submissions say: “The revelation by the Huntercombe Defendants regarding their alleged insurance excess, and the financial position of the Huntercombe Group, both raise significant issues in that the NHS contracted the Huntercombe Group to provide psychiatric services and treatment that the State was required to provide, pursuant to the Mental Health Act.”

“It would be a matter of considerable public concern if such statutory services were being ‘contracted out’ by the State to private companies that had inadequate insurance and were not financially viable in the longer term.”

It added: “It is assumed that there is an indemnity provided for in the contract with Huntercombe in order to address those obvious concerns.”

Earlier this year The Independent revealed the government had failed to implement the majority of recommendations from the inquiry into breast surgeon Ian Paterson, who carried out unnecessary and harmful operations on hundreds of patients within the NHS and private hospitals.

One urgent recommendation, yet to be actioned, was for the government to reform the regulation of indemnity products for healthcare professionals, after the inquiry revealed patients harmed by Paterson in the private sector were left without any cover.

Currently, the cover provided by medical defence organisations, which covers the costs of claims against doctors and award damages to patients, is discretionary and coverage can be withdrawn. This leaves patients without any recourse compensation.

This story was updated at 10:36 to reflect all defendants included in the claims and additional arguments from the defence.