Ward Watch report finds woeful conditions continue to prevail in many psychiatric hospitals
Posted Tuesday 7 September 2004
New research highlights mixed-sex accommodation, harassment and abuse, insufficient staffing levels and intense boredom on untherapeutic wards.
Mind, the leading mental health charity in England and Wales, today (7 Sept) published deeply disturbing new research which reveals a catalogue of woeful hospital conditions still endured by a high proportion of mental health inpatients.
The shocking report Ward Watch found a climate of fear on many wards, with patients exposed to harassment, abuse and untherapeutic hospital conditions, exacerbated by overworked staff, often from agencies, who can sometimes treat patients with a lack of dignity and respect.
Every year 37,996 people in England and Wales spend time in hospital with mental health problems (1). The Ward Watch survey asked current and recent mental health inpatients about their experiences of hospital (2).
The key findings from Ward Watch reveal that:
- Despite Government claims that it is a rarity, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of respondents have been currently or recently accommodated in mixed-sex accommodation.
- Over a quarter (27 per cent) of people surveyed said they rarely felt safe while in hospital. This figure increased to 46 per cent for non-White British respondents.
- Only one in five people felt that they were treated with respect and dignity by hospital staff.
- Almost a quarter of respondents reported being physically or verbally threatened during their stay in hospital with 20 per cent reporting physical assault, seven per cent of all patients reported being harassed or assaulted by staff.
- Over half of those surveyed said that the hospital surroundings had not helped their recovery. Almost a third thought that it had made their health worse.
Of particular concern were patients experiences of mixed-sex wards. There is consistent research which shows that patients dislike mixed-sex accommodation in hospital, and that it compromises their privacy, dignity and safety. Yet two years on from the Government's own targets for eliminating mixed-sex wards and less than a year after it claimed that 99 per cent of NHS Trusts had met Government targets, Ward Watch found mixed-sex accommodation was still very much a reality for a significant proportion of inpatients (23 per cent).
Mind's survey found a direct correlation between safety concerns and the type of accommodation provided. Patients with access to single-sex bathroom and daytime facilities consistently felt safer and were more likely to feel that the hospital environment helped their recovery than those without.
As Leader of the Opposition in 1996, Tony Blair said of mixed-sex wards:"Is it beyond the and wit of the Government and the health administrators to deal with that problem?" (3) Sadly it seems the answer is yes.
Today's report kicks-off a new campaign by Mind. Ward Watch will aim to improve hospital conditions for people being treated for mental health problems by highlighting current shortcomings and supporting local campaigning by service users, through the Mind network, to improve the planning and delivery of services in hospitals.
Responding to the report findings, Richard Brook, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
"Ward Watch paints a picture of two extremes in the NHS: examples of excellent practice experienced by some, contrasted sharply with the pitiful conditions that others endured. Vulnerable people are being let down by the mental health services that they come to rely on, at the time they need them most. The Government seems incapable of eliminating mixed-sex wards: in doing so it is failing to provide patients with the most basic levels of privacy and safety.
Some staff undoubtedly provide exactly the excellent, sensitively delivered care and support that is required of them, and Mind applauds this. However, many qualified staff are often over-stretched and there is an over-reliance on untrained agency staff. It is in these circumstances that the impact of poor staffing adds to the miserable experience that many people reported. We mustn't forget after all, that the hospital environment should help rather than hinder recovery.
The Government must build on some of the many examples of excellent practice that Mind has identified. Getting inpatient care right can make an enormous difference to peoples mental health and recovery, but invariably that means understanding and meeting the needs of the users of those services. That does not happen enough. The challenge now is to make this good practice the norm so that the disturbing elements of this report are eradicated."
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- Number of unfinished episodes at 31 March 2003. Department of Health (2003). Statistical Bulletin. Census of Patients at 31 March 2003. The National Assembly for Wales (2003).
- Mind found 416 current or recent mental health in-patients to take part in the research. Recent is defined as patients who at the time they contributed to the research had been inpatients in the past two years.
- Report, 19 November 1996, vol. 285, c. 832.