Hospitals Must Review Patients’ Safety after Rapes Shock

Every mental health trust in the country is to be instructed to review its approach to patients’ safety after the publication of a report describing alleged rapes, sexual assaults and sexual harassment. Officials have been aware of the report for more than eight months, but published it only yesterday — a week after The Times revealed its contents. They said that a separate inquiry had been started into the most serious alleged incidents, which include 11 reports of rapes by NHS staff.

Ministers have faced a barrage of criticism this week for failing to act on the information: no safety alert or progress report was issued, which health campaigners and politicians describe as gross neglect.

The report, With Safety in Mind: Mental Health Services and Patient Safety, describes 122 serious incidents within two years. As well as the 19 rape cases revealed by The Times, there were 20 reported incidents of consensual sex, 13 of exposure, 18 of sexual advance and 26 of touching.

Of the nineteen reported rapes, eight were allegedly carried out by a fellow patient and eleven by a member of staff. The report, compiled by the National Patient Safety Agency, acknowledges the likelihood of underreporting of incidents. It also calls for a new definition of “harm” in incident reports to include psychological trauma.

Responding to the publication yesterday, Louis Appleby, the National Director for Mental Health, said that he had started an inquiry into the most serious allegations and that every mental health trust would be asked to review procedures to protect patients.

“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,” Professor Appleby said. “We must investigate and learn from all these incidents.”

The report brings into question the Government’s claim to have set up single-sex wards that are safe and ensure personal dignity across the health service. The pledge, made by Tony Blair when in Opposition in 1996, has been fulfilled in 99 per cent of mental health settings, the Government says.

The patient safety agency analysis covers almost 45,000 incidents reported by staff between November 2003 and September 2005. Most of the incidents relating to the 84 mental health trusts took place in the 12 months to last October.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, the mental health charity, described the report as shocking and called for an urgent audit of single-sex wards. “People who are extremely vulnerable should be treated with the best care and attention, not subjected to abuse,” he said.

Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, suspected that the levels of violence and abuse described in the report were the tip of the iceberg. “It is scandalous that such abuse is allowed to take place. If a woman went into hospital for a heart operation and was raped during her stay, it would be a national scandal. But women who are raped while in mental health services are simply not believed.”