HEALTH chiefs have again been told to make major improvements to a controversial mental health unit in Southampton.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) made an unannounced visit to Antelope House and identified a range of issues including staff shortages, the absence of correct equipment and “erratic” record-keeping.

Antelope House, run by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, has been hit by a series of controversies in recent years.

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In 2014 a previous CQC inspection found that care records went missing, medicines were not handled properly and patients were put at risk.

Southern Health was told to make immediate improvements or face further action.

But the trust was criticised by a coroner last year after Eleanor Brabant was found hanging in her room and died at Southampton General Hospital three days later.

An inquest held at Winchester Coroner’s Court heard that opportunities to improve Ms Brabant’s care had been missed.

Earlier this year grieving relatives demanded to know why staff failed to watch over a patient more closely after she threatened to jump off a building.

Maria Duarte, 49, was found hanged in her room and was pronounced dead a short time later, an inquest was told.

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The latest CQC inspection was carried out in February following concerns expressed by patients and staff regarding cleanliness, safety and the quality of care.

Karen Bennett-Wilson, the CQC’s head of hospital inspection in the south west, said Southern Health had been told to take action to safeguard patients.

She added: “If improvements are not forthcoming we will not hesitate to take further steps to protect the people who are using this service.”

Dr Adam Cox, Southern Health's clinical director for Southampton, has responded to the CQC's comments.

He said: “We fully accept that there are improvements to be made at Antelope House and we have already made significant changes at the unit since the inspection took place and indeed over a considerable period of time.

“Over the last year we have strengthened the leadership and training at Antelope House - something that the inspectors, who conducted the unannounced inspection back in February, acknowledged on their visit.

"This includes new measures to ensure patients’ physical health needs are better addressed as part of mental health care planning.

“We have also introduced new equipment to make the ward environment safer for our patients and have taken a number of steps to improve how we work with patients’ families, so they are more involved in their loved ones’ care.

“It’s true that staffing remains a significant challenge facing the whole NHS, including our Trust.

"That is why we have put in place a range of actions both to recruit additional staff and ensure we support and retain our existing colleagues.

"I am confident that we have a dedicated, skilled and compassionate team at Antelope House who are doing their best to help people in an environment that is safer than ever before.”