VULNERABLE patients' dignity was compromised by poorly trained staff at a rehab unit where dementia was mistaken for a learning difficulty, according to a damning watchdog report.

Highams Court rehab unit, in Friars Close, Chingford, which supported those recovering from long term injury or illness, is due to close next month as part of a reconfiguration of NHS services for vulnerable people across east London.

Relatives of patients at the unit hailed the "excellent" staff as they fought the closure in a long campaign but findings in a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report published this week reveal multiple failings at the unit repeatedly put patients at risk.

A visit from the watchdog on August 6 found that the unit was understaffed, resulting in one patient waiting for 45 minutes for assistance to use the toilet and another left so long they wet the bed.

The report quotes one patient saying: "It's really frustrating, I hang on as long as I can but then you get angry, because you can't wait any longer and they just keep saying I'll be there soon."

The CQC also criticised training, stating that staff were not helped to further their expertise, while several had not had safeguarding training.

The lack of training meant support staff recognised dementia care and "challenging behaviour" as a "learning need".

The report concluded: "Patients were cared for by staff who could not always deliver care and treatment safely.

Call bells could not be heard in the dining and lounge area by staff.

This left people in situations that compromised their dignity and at risk of falls or pressure damage."

Judy Streight, 62, of Chingford Avenue, whose 91-year-old mother, Ethel Cousins, recently left the unit where she was cared for for her dementia, said her mother had been well-cared for.

"The findings are definitely a surprise," she said. "That my mother's so frail but has reached the age of 91 is a testament to the excellent care she received."

The CQC is due to receive a report within two weeks detailing the action to be taken, but as the unit is now empty it is not clear what this will be.

A Barts Health NHS Trust spokeswoman said: "The failings identified in the CQC report are unacceptable and fall below the standard of care every patient has a right to expect. We have already implemented an urgent action plan to rectify the concerns raised, including increased investment in staff, training and equipment.

"Specific measures include changes to our senior team to provide the strong leadership required to sustain and build on these improvements; unannounced inspections by senior trust staff, and funding for new equipment, including wheelchairs and call-bell monitoring systems.

"We have increased staffing levels both during the day and at night to make sure patients’ needs are met at all times in a caring, compassionate and timely way.

"We have also held a comprehensive review of the training needs of all staff to ensure they are compliant in safeguarding training and qualified to care for patients with specific needs such as dementia."

A NELC spokesman said: "The decision to move the small number of continuing care patients from Highams Court to another nursing home of their choice was taken to help improve the overall quality of community care in Waltham Forest.

"The subsequent closure of Highams Court will enable more investment in community services, such as nursing, therapy and rehabilitation."

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