Alleged rapes of patients described as “truly shocking”

The 19 alleged rapes of patients in NHS mental health settings between 2003 and 2005 have been described as “scandalous” and “truly shocking” by mental health charities.

Eleven of the 19 alleged rapes reported this week by the government’s National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) were allegedly by staff.

The NPSA, set up in 2001, monitors patient safety in the NHS. It collates its information from a number of official sources.

Its new report into mental health NHS services states that from November 2003 to September 2005 there were 122 reported sexual incidents, including 19 alleged rapes and 20 reports of consensual sex. There were 13 cases of exposure, 18 of sexual advance and 26 of touching. However, the NPSA admits the likelihood that there has been “significant under-reporting” of patient harm.

The NPSA states the NHS has received three claims for compensation following unwanted pregnancies.

The report’s findings were described as “truly shocking” by Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind.

Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, described them as “scandalous”. “If a woman went into hospital for a heart operation and was raped during her stay, it would be a national scandal.” he said

“Women who are raped while in mental health services are simply not believed. People with mental health problems are treated as second class citizens.”

In total, the NPSA report gave around 44,000 reported harmful incidents in NHS mental health settings, mostly inpatient units. Most incidents (34.7%) were due to patient accidents, while 23% were related to disruptive or aggressive behaviour, 17% due to self-harm. Just 1.2% of incidents were related to abuse (including sexual abuse) of patients.

The response of mental health trusts to these incidents was “varied”, stated the report, entitled “With safety in mind: mental health services and patient safety”.

Responding to the report, the National Director for Mental Health, Professor Louis Appleby, said there will be an inquiry into the most serious sexual allegations. Every mental health trust will also be asked to review their procedures to ensure that they have in place measures to protect the sexual safety of inpatients, he added.

“Although the vast majority of NHS patients receive safe and effective care, any incident where the safety of a patient is compromised is one incident too many,” Prof Appleby told the Times newspaper.

“We must investigate and learn from all these incidents, so that we can make systems safer and more reliable in preventing harm,” he said.

The NPSA report did not reveal how many of the reported incidents occurred in mixed-sex settings. Although the health minister, Rosie Winterton, has said that 99 per cent of NHS trusts provided single sex wards for psychiatric inpatients, mental health charities strongly refute this.

Mr Farmer said: “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.”

Tim Loughton, the Tory health spokesman, this week told Ms Winterton in the House of Commons: “No-one who has visited a mental hospital remotely believes your assertion that 99 per cent of them offer only single sex wards. A flimsy curtain across a ward does not constitute a single sex ward.”

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