Pressure forces Government into releasing shock sexual abuse report
Posted Tuesday 18 July 2006
Delayed data show alarming levels of sexual abuse and rape in mental healthcare
A report today unveils the extent of sexual abuse, including rape, on mental health wards (1). Following pressure from mental health charity Mind, the Department of Health has released research conducted by its safety watchdog, the National Patient Safety Agency. It reveals at least 122 reported sexual incidents including 19 rapes, while stating that this is significant under-reporting. The data has been taken from mental healthcare settings in England from November 2003 to September 2005 - however, trusts were joining the reporting system during this time, some not until July 2005 (2).
Of the nineteen reported rapes, the alleged perpetrator in the majority of cases - 11 - was a staff member. The report confirms that the NHS Litigation Authority received three claims for compensation following unwanted pregnancies. It does not reveal how many of the 20 reported cases of 'consensual' sex involved staff members.
The response of mental health trusts to these incidents is reported as 'varied', suggesting that not all trusts had appropriate procedures in place. It is also not clear in how many incidents the police were involved - something that should be routine for allegations of sexual abuse.
The report also doesn't reveal how many of the reported incidents occurred in mixed-sex settings. The Government pledged to abolish mixed-sex wards and has for some time claimed that 99 per cent of all mental health wards are single-sex. But the criteria they use are insufficient, and as the report concedes, guidance is broken. 23 per cent of respondents to Mind's Ward Watch report, 2004, had been accommodated in mixed-sex wards.
This report data was available from the end of last year. Mind has learned of multiple incidents of abuse on wards which have occurred since then - raising questions about whether these could have been avoided, had action been taken sooner.
The report confirms that the statistics reflect under-reporting. Mind's own Ward Watch survey found that fewer than four in ten harassment or abuse incidents were reported to staff, with fear of reprisal and a lack of confidence that any action would be taken as the main reasons for this.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said:
"This is a truly shocking report which requires urgent action. People who are extremely vulnerable should be treated with the best care and attention - not subjected to abuse. We urgently need an audit of the implementation of single-sex wards. Service users are consistently telling Mind that Government claims are not the reality.
It is even more shocking that staff are the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Professional guidelines clearly prohibit any kind of sexual contact with patients - we need to eradicate this appalling state of affairs. We must also have a systematic way of collecting data on an annual basis to show us what the true picture is. Mind will be writing to the Minister to request immediate action."
1) NHS National Patient Safety Agency, Patient Safety Observatory Report 2, With safety in mind: mental health services and patient safety
2) Not all trusts submitted data for the same length of time. The report concedes that "data included within this report may not be representative of the rate of incidents across all of England and Wales." (p 16)