Mind condemns scandal of sexual abuse on mental health wards - data withheld by Government
Posted Monday 10 July 2006
Leaked report data unveils systematic failings
Delays publishing rape and assault statistics compromise patient safety
A shocking patient safety report leaked today (1) indicates the scandal of widespread sexual harassment, abuse, and rape on mental health wards, the extent of which the Department of Health (DH) has been aware of since November last year.
The data, yet to be published by the DH, includes over 100 sexual incidents that occurred in NHS mental health wards, including more than ten rapes. There have been three unwanted pregnancies.
Mind is gravely concerned at this delay - if earlier action had been taken, further incidents since November 2005 might have been prevented.
Tony Blair pledged in 1996 that mixed-sex mental health wards would be replaced with single-sex wards. Ten years later, and four years after the Government's declared 2002 deadline for this, many patients still don't have access to truly single-sex wards. Of recent and current inpatients surveyed for Mind's 2004 Ward Watch report, 23 per cent had been accommodated in mixed-sex accommodation (2), belying the Government's claim that 99 per cent of mental health ward accommodation is single-sex.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
"It is absolutely unacceptable that this data has been sitting unpublished for so long. If incidents like these occurred on cancer wards there would be an outcry, and immediate action. But mental health patients will be the most emotionally vulnerable, and should have the highest levels of protection.
Rapes and sexual assaults on mental health wards are the results of faults at every level, and it is impossible to defend this systematic failing.
Yet again, mental health is being neglected. The unpublished figures represent enormous levels of trauma and suffering, and they deserve attention - and action."
Mind demands that the Government's policy to provide single-sex wards to be implemented in the true meaning of single-sex wards: not just ineffective box-ticking and rule-bending that leaves patients vulnerable to sexual assault. Patients' complaints must be taken seriously, and the police involved whenever appropriate.
While the fact that rapes and sexual assaults occur on mental health wards may, tragically, not surprise too many in the sector, the scale that these new figures show is shocking. The Healthcare Commission's 2005 National Audit of Violence report found that staffing issues are the biggest reason for violence in mental health settings (3). Insufficient staff means that ward activities are limited, so patients become bored and frustrated. When incidents occur, there isn't the time or the will to follow them up, creating a climate where intimidating behaviour isn't just tolerated, but normalised. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health's Acute Care 2004 report (4) found that one in five mental health ward managers were willing to admit that their ward does not promote positive mental health.
Tim Loughton MP, shadow health minister, said:
"Those with mental health problems make up one of the most vulnerable groups in society and it is totally unacceptable that they should be exposed to these terrible assaults, especially when they are supposedly in the care of the state. The risks faced by mental health patients are exacerbated by the Government's failure to ensure that wards are single sex only. The problem is only set to get worse as this year's NHS deficits have forced mental health trusts, who are already struggling to meet demand, to make devastating cuts to their services."
Sandra Gidley MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, said:
"The Government have been sitting on this report since November and refuse to give a date of publication. Urgent steps must be taken to ensure that nobody is being treated on mixed sex wards, which is particularly important when it is the most vulnerable in society who are being looked after. I have tabled an urgent question calling on the Government to publish this report immediately and respond to this scandal in mental health care."
Lynne Jones MP (Lab), co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health, said:
"This research backs up what we already know about mental health settings. In wards that should be the safest of all, the problems are worst. We put trust in the NHS to look after vulnerable people, sometimes against their own will, yet many of them are being put into a dangerous situation when they go into hospital. Our trust and theirs is too often betrayed."
1) National Patient Safety Agency's Mental Health Observatory report.
3) Healthcare Commission: National Audit of Violence, 24 May 2005
4) The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health: Acute Care 2004, 25 May 2005