June 16, 2024

Health secretary urges patients to report ‘horrific’ sexual abuse allegations to police

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has said mental health patients and staff must report the ‘horrific’ sexual abuse allegations uncovered by The Independent to the police.

Ms Atkins said victims would have her full support in reporting criminal claims to the police.

Her intervention comes following a joint investigation by The Independent and Sky News revealing almost 20,000 reports of sexual harassment and abuse on NHS mental health wards in England.

Allegations uncovered include patients claiming to have been raped by staff and other patients while being treated in mental health wards.

In response to the initial investigation, Ms Atkins said a review launched last year into mental health services would now also look into sexual assault within the sector.

Speaking on Sky News, she said: “These are horrific allegations that should not and must not happen in our care. Very, very, vulnerable people have to stay in mental health inpatient facilities and they do so because they need care support and treatment.

“Some of the behaviors that have come to light are criminal offences and so I would encourage anyone who feels able to, and I appreciate it is a difficult step… to go to the police and please report them because they are crimes and we must drive them out.”

Her comments come after The Independent revealed more than 1,300 reports to the police of rape and sexual assault occurred in 340 mental health units but just 26 charges were identified.

Dozens of patients speaking to The Independent and Sky News have come forward with complaints and say they were not listened to by hospital staff after making sexual assault claims, and were often told by the police their reports would be unlikely to result in any outcome.

Responding to the expose, Victims Commissioner Baroness Newlove has urged healthcare leaders to address the “sustained” failures to tackle the alleged sexual abuse and harassment of patients.

The Commons Health Committee declined to comment.

Among the reports uncovered are from patients who have been assaulted on mixed sex wards which are still used within NHS mental health services, despite the government’s promises to end mixed wards in 2010.

In one story, former mental health hospital patient Alexis Quinn revealed in an exclusive podcast allegations she was sexually assaulted twice, once while admitted on to a male ward.

Experts, such as clinical negligence lawyers at Leigh Day, have also called for regulation of healthcare assistants, who are currently unregulated, as a first step towards tackling the dangers of staff abuse of patients.

The Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England have previously not responded when asked about plans to tackle mixed-sex care and the regulation of healthcare assistants.

However, the DHSC has said it will be publishing new guidance on mixed care shortly.

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