Published: 15:46, 30 July 2020
| Updated: 15:00, 09 August 2020
Health bosses have "apologised unreservedly" for the way one of Kent's top dementia hospitals was closed.
Caroline Selkirk, director of health improvement at the new Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), admitted to county councillors that how the Frank Lloyd Centre at Sittingbourne had been shut was wrong.
She said an internal review had found the previous eight Kent and Medway CCGs, including Swale, (KMCCG) "did not adequately follow due process" and added: "We acknowledge that insufficient work has been undertaken to thoroughly develop a suitable model of care for these dementia patients and we are working to rectify this as a matter of urgency."
She admitted four "tests" had not been carried out by the previous bodies and said: "KMCCG apologises unreservedly for these omissions."
The tests insisted on support from GPs; public and patient engagement; clinical evidence and patient choice. A fifth test was introduced in 2017 to ensure patients continued to receive high quality care.
The scandal was first raised in public by Sittingbourne grandmother Denise Petro. She said: "It has now been acknowledged the closure was not in the best interest of the people and it is now being looked into. But it is all too late for those poor people whose loved ones have since passed away."
Sittingbourne West county councillor John Wright raised the matter at the Kent Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) which threatened to report the CCGs to health minister Matt Hancock.
Mrs Petro, 73, from Kent Avenue, said: "I have always said the closure of this home was a disgrace and this report proves it. I would like to know why Swale CCG never investigated what was going on?
"At its last meeting at The Appleyard, Sittingbourne, I had to sit through three hours of talking. But Frank Lloyd was never mentioned until I raised it under any other business.
"The governing body all looked as if I had shot them. The way I feel now, I wish I had. They promised they would investigate and come back to me. I’m still waiting."
Councillors at the Kent Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) heard on Wednesdaythat:
The decision to close was premature and without sufficient alternate provision in Kent and Medway.
Insufficient consultation had been carried out.
There was a lack of proper clinical evidence that the closure was in the best interest of patients.
There would be workforce implications for KMPT.
Mrs Petro said: "All the patients who were moved from the Frank Lloyd Home have since sadly died.* Some had been there for years.
"It was not used to its full capacity because the powers that be decided the home should be closed and therefore did not accept new referrals."
She added: "Dementia is a major issue nationally. How the commissioners decided to close a purpose-built home with specially trained staff I will never understand.
"It was a cost-cutting exercise which had a very high price at the end which resulted in the death of the patients who were moved into homes that could not cope with their specific needs.
"I have been involved with trying to keep this home open for at least two years and attended various meetings of the CCG but the home was never on the agenda. I ask the question why?
"What has happened to the Frank Lloyd Home and its patients is a disgrace. The CCG should hang their heads in shame for the way they have treated the families.
"A full investigation needs to be undertaken and whoever is responsible for what has happened to this home needs to be held accountable."
The Frank Lloyd unit at Sittingbourne's Memorial Hospital in Bell Road is run by the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT). It initially had two 20-bed wards for 'challenging' dementia patients from all over the county.
Relatives agreed its specialist staff were some of the best at coping with the often violent or self-harming patients.
It was assessed as outstanding by the Care Quality Commission in 2017.
But in a bid to re-allocate the £4 million a year it cost to run, health commissioners decided to run it down, insisting no new patients be admitted and existing ones be discharged into alternative homes by March this year.
Current medical thinking is that dementia patients are best cared for in their own home surrounded by familiar objects. But a small number of 'challenging patients' will still need 24/7 care in a specialist unit and may never be able to return home.
Cllr John Wright, who is also on the board of the Medway NHS Foundation Trust which runs Medway Maritime Hospital, was at the HOSC.
He said: "I was pleasantly surprised when the new CCG put its hands up and apologised. There is no need to refer the subject to the health minister now.
"I look forward to them doing the right thing although, at the end of the day, the damage has already been done. Frank Lloyd was worn down by a thousand cuts.
"It has been a bad experience. Trying to get the previous CCGs to engage was like pulling hen's teeth.
"No one denies it is best to look after dementia patients in their own home if possible where their memories are but there will still be a need for the more challenging ones to be in specialist units and I will be campaigning to ensure that Frank Lloyd is one of them.
"It is in good condition, was purpose built and has good access from Sheppey, Medway and Faversham."
* We have since learned that not all patients have died since being moved from the Frank Lloyd dementia unit at Sittingbourne. One male patient is still alive and is being cared for in a home in Maidstone. His relatives have asked that we do not identify him.