wards are “frightening and dangerous”
by Angela Hussain
psychiatric wards are “frightening and dangerous”, according
to the Mental Health Act Commission.
In what is the latest in a string
of damning reports on the condition of private and NHS psychiatric
units over the last few years, commissioners say they are also "tougher,
scarier places” than 10 years ago.
This week's report followed commissioners'
visits to 6,000 detained patients over the last two years.
commissioners drew parallels of today's inpatient units with the
“evils” of the madhouses listed by a parliamentary enquiry
in 1815/6. These included overcrowded wards with too few staff and
a mixing of highly-disturbed individuals with those with less problems.
The commission also reported long-running concerns, such as over-reliance
on agency nurses, mixed-sex wards, and young people being placed
on adult wards, a practice ministers have vowed to end.
The biennial report read: “The busy acute wards that we visit
appear to be tougher and scarier places than we saw a decade ago.
Something needs to be done.
"It is scandalous that we are forcing vulnerable people onto
mental health wards that are frightening and dangerous places. This
should not happen at all, but it should be a matter of extreme priority
that children are not placed in such situations, and that women’s
safety from sexual harassment, abuse and assault is addressed within
the mental health service.”
government promised to end mixed-sex accommodation in general by
2002, but that has not been met. Some consider the partitioning
of wards into male and female areas to be acceptable.
Health Minister Lord Darzi said this week the NHS would have to
be rebuilt if all wards were to become exclusively single sex.
Ministers have also promised to end the practice of keeping young
people on adult mental health wards by the end of this year.
Health minister Ivan Lewis said progress had been made on giving
mental health patients single sex accommodation.
But he admitted: "We know there is more to do."
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the charity Mind, was concerned
by the report's findings.
He said: "Hospitals should be therapeutic places of safety
but unfortunately for some people their hospital experience only
serves to hinder rather than help their recovery."
Marjorie Wallace of Sane said: "With reports like these, how
can we proceed with implementing the new Mental Health Act if we
are unable to ensure that those detained under its powers are treated
and protected in humane conditions?"
health professionals themselves are trying to boost standards in
Royal College of Psychiatrists, in partnership with the Royal College
of Nursing, the British Psychological Society and the College of
Occupational Therapists, has launched a national accreditation scheme
for inpatient psychiatric wards.
Mental Health Act commissioners found in six months before November
* Vulnerable women housed with predatory
men – alleging physical / sexual abuse – unwilling to
take complaint forward due to fear of what would happen. Had told
male member of staff who had laughed it off.
* Female black patient frequently
racially abused by male patient. During the past month physically
abused. Commissioner highlighted the same issue on previous visit
- no adequate response.
* Three new acute wards with 135%
bed occupancy – patients sleeping in day rooms – no
curtains – mattresses stowed away by day – no space
for belongings – staff run off feet.
* A ward where the plaster on the
walls had been removed bit by bit by patient. Some rooms looked
like they were in the process of being demolished – staff
seemed resigned to the
conditions – patients very upset and angry about the living
* A woman in seclusion who was deprived
of sanitary protection whilst menstruating.
One detained patient said he was very worried about his life and
future as he had raped another detained patient and nobody had discussed
these issues with him. When brought it up with the manager, they
said that it had been ‘dealt with’.
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