The Priory Group have pleaded guilty to health and safety charges following the death of 14-year-old Amy El-Keria in an historic ruling for accountability after the death of children in private mental health care settings.
Amy was under the care of the NHS-funded Ticehurst House, itself part of the private Priory Group, in East Sussex at the time of her death, when care workers found her unresponsive in her room during routine checks. Amy lived with multiple mental health diagnoses and had complex needs relating to her mental health.
Despite staff being aware that she was at serious risk of self-harm and suicide, having made several attempts before her admittance, her room was not searched prior to Amy making it known she had a desire to end her life, which may have prevented her suicide.
A 2016 inquest jury found that the Priory Group had failed in all aspects of Amy’s care and treatment, prompting a criminal investigation. It was found that staff, who found Amy alive but unresponsive, did not immediately carry out CPR per guidelines until the duty doctor was called. Staff also waited ten minutes to call an ambulance.
Outside of her death, it was also noted that staff repeatedly failed to notify her mother of Amy’s self-harm and suicide threats, as well as several instances of forced sedation and restraint, one of which saw staff leaving Amy sedated on the floor of her room.
Amy’s mother, Tania El-Keria said: “Amy was my dearly loved youngest daughter, a sister, niece and granddaughter with her whole life ahead of her. She had the warmest heart and a greatest sense of humour. She never liked to see people treated unfairly and would be the first to say, ‘that’s not right’.
“Amy’s mental health care should never have been in the hands of a company whose priority was placing profit over her safety. For 14 years we kept her safe but within 3 months with the Priory she was dead.
“Six long years it has taken for the Priory to be brought to Court. Every day I have to live with the heartbreak of my child’s death. Every day my family have to suffer her absence. The only thing that has kept me going is to achieve justice for Amy and to stop other families going through the torture we have endured. Today is a huge step forward achieving this. This guilty plea is a bitter but long awaited acknowledgement from the Priory of their criminal failure.”
Victoria McNally, senior caseworker at INQUEST, said: “This family have been failed by a system that placed Amy in the care of a private company, now exposed as operating criminally inadequate standards. From the moment of Amy’s death the family have faced the hardest of battles for answers and action against those responsible.
“The government must now review whether the Priory is fit to receive such significant public expenditure for the provision of children’s specialist mental health care. The family call for an immediate meeting with the Minister to discuss their response to the gross failures now brought to light through Amy’s and other cases involving the Priory.”