Skip to main content

Exclusive: Private providers targeted in NHSE crackdown on poor quality care

Published on: 11 Aug 2022

NHS England has revealed plans to crack down on poor care being provided by mental health service providers. 

There will be a particular focus on independent units treating NHS patients, as just over a quarter of these providers are failing to meet quality standards. 

Official data shared with HSJ shows that of the 238 independent NHS mental health providers licensed by the Care Quality Commission in England, 174 (73 per cent) are classed as “good” or “outstanding”. The remaining 64 (27 per cent) either “require improvement” or are considered “inadequate”. 

There have been national concerns about repeated service failures within the sector. Independent units are often used by NHS trusts for out of area placements – a practice it is trying to end – or to cope with the lack of acute mental health beds.

Last year, NHSE intervened in the case of Cygnet Healthcare. NHSE said it would “not tolerate further service failures” following repeated quality concerns about the provider’s 100-plus units. Cygnet has since improved the quality of its services.

NHSE national director for mental health Claire Murdoch told HSJ: “It is the responsibility of every board, whether it’s an NHS board or private sector board, to ensure absolutely that they are delivering on safety and quality, not only in accordance with their contracts, but because that’s what the healthcare business is all about.”

The national director said NHSE is planning to boost the strength of its quality improvement programme further to ensure all units providing mental healthcare are safe.

It has created a new “head of quality” post to oversee improvements across NHS and private healthcare. This will be filled by the current NHSE head of mental health Liz Durrant.

Ms Murdoch told HSJ she will lead a “very major quality improvement programme that will focus hugely on inpatient care, and including very much the independent sector”.