The Priory is facing a fine of millions of pounds for breaching health and safety laws after a 14-year-old girl with a history of suicide attempts died in its care.
A criminal investigation was launched by the Health and Safety Executive into the private mental healthcare group after the death of Amy El-Keria, who was treated at its Ticehurst House psychiatric hospital in 2012, Brighton Magistrates’ Court heard.
The London-based company indicated a guilty plea after being charged under health and safety laws with being an employer failing to discharge its duty to ensure people were not exposed to risk, in what is thought to be the first prosecution of its kind.
Outside court, Amy’s mother Tania El-Keria wept as she told reporters her daughter’s welfare should never have been “in the hands of a company whose priority was placing profit over her safety” and called on mental health minister Jackie Doyle-Price for a meeting to discuss the failings in the care system.
Demanding more transparency in the private hospitals, she said: “For 14 years we kept her safe but within three 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.”
She said the case was “bitter” but a “huge step forward” and “long awaited”, adding: “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 great sense of humour. She never liked to see people treated unfairly.”
The packed courtroom heard the company would be admitting the offence formally at a Crown Court sentencing hearing next month in front of a judge with the power to impose an unlimited fine.
The company had a turnover of £134 million for the year ending 2016 and the starting point for the fine would be £2.4 million, Sarah Le Fevre, prosecuting, said.
The teenager was an NHS-funded patient in the Priory’s care at the East Sussex hospital’s children’s unit near Tunbridge Wells.
On August 23 2012, she was admitted to the hospital’s high dependency unit and on November 11 that year she tied a ligature around her neck in her bedroom, the court heard.
Amy was found at 8.15pm and taken to hospital by 11pm but died the following day after life support was withdrawn.
Ms Le Fevre told the court she had a “known and recent history of ligature attempts (which) continued during her time there”.
But she was left with unsupervised access and the means to carry out another suicide attempt, the court heard.
The Health and Safety Executive investigation concluded “procedures for the management of ligature risk had not resulted in effective measures”, Ms Le Fevre said.
An inquest in 2016 heard neglect contributed to Amy’s death, finding she died accidentally of unintended consequences of a deliberate act.
The jury’s findings were highly critical of the Priory, ruling staff failed to dial 999 quickly enough, failed to call a doctor promptly and were not trained in CPR.
Staffing levels were inadequate, Amy was not resuscitated properly by staff, and had to be removed from the hospital on a body board because the ambulance stretcher could not fit in the lift, it found.
The response of staff was so inadequate the jury agreed there was a possibility that Amy may have lived if she had received proper care.
Inquest, the charity supporting her family, said this was thought to be the first prosecution of its kind and a “historic moment in accountability” after the deaths of children in private mental health care.
Caseworker Victoria McNally called on the Government to review whether the Priory is fit to receive “such significant public expenditure” for the provision of children’s specialist mental health care after the family had been “failed by the system”.
The Priory Group said in a statement: “We are truly sorry that this very sad incident occurred and extend our deepest sympathies to Amy’s family.
“We continue to invest significantly in improving patient safety at Ticehurst. The hospital is making strong progress under new leadership and continues to be rated ‘good’ in all areas by the CQC.”
The company is expected to be sentenced at Lewes Crown Court on February 6.