Patient 11: Calls for public inquiry into 20,000 sexual abuse allegations in NHS mental health wards | UK News

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Rape Crisis England & Wales is calling for a public inquiry into sexual violence and abuse within mental health inpatient wards after a Sky News investigation uncovered a catalogue of sexual abuse complaints.

The Sky News/Independent Patient 11 podcast investigation discovered nearly 20,000 new sexual abuse, harassment and rape complaints – involving both patients and staff – across more than 30 mental health trusts in England since 2019.

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Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCE) described the current situation as “appalling” and “alarming”.

In addition to calls for a public inquiry, it wants the government to appoint a minister responsible for the safety of women on mental health wards, women-only wards, and a provision to allow victims to give evidence.

“We are concerned that without major intervention and leadership at the highest levels, this could lead to sexual violence and abuse simply being accepted as inevitable, when it is absolutely preventable,” said Ciara Bergman, chief executive of RCE.

“We have been raising our concerns about the widespread safeguarding issues with those within the health system for many years.

“It is disturbing that even after the important CQC (Care Quality Commission) report published in 2018 on sexual safety, so little has seemingly changed.

“Women and girls deserve to feel safe wherever they are, but particularly when they are at their most vulnerable.”

(L-R) Stephanie Tutty, Alexis Quinn and Rivkah Grant say they were sexually assaulted while in NHS care
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Stephanie Tutty, Alexis Quinn and Rivkah Grant are among those who say they were sexually assaulted in NHS care


Following our investigation – which also revealed hundreds of rape or sexual assault complaints involving female patients that were never reported to police, and a landscape where trusts are largely failing to apply 2020 government-backed protections – the health minister said allegations of sexual abuse in mental health settings would be part of a major review.

In February, it was revealed that NHS England was not enforcing safeguarding standards as mandatory across its trusts.

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NHS psychiatric care ‘collapsing’

In its statement, RCE highlighted its concerns over a “lack of clarity” on the part of government and health leaders regarding the ultimate responsibility for sexual safety on mental health inpatient wards.

“There is no quick fix to this scandalous situation,” said former patient Alexis Quinn, whose escape from psychiatric care following two complaints of sexual assault sparked the podcast investigation.

“As RCE suggest, it requires political will, leadership and co-produced solutions targeted at positive culture change.”

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‘I’m just being traumatised’

The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to the RCE call for a public enquiry.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “The department has zero tolerance and is clear that the NHS should work to stop sexual assaults happening in NHS services and premises.

“We have been clear patients should not have to share sleeping accommodation with others of the opposite sex and should have access to segregated bathroom and toilet facilities, and we expect NHS trusts to comply with these measures.

“We are working closely with the NHS to ensure anyone receiving treatment in a mental health facility receives safe, high-quality care, and is looked after with dignity and respect, and the Health Services Safety Investigations Body has launched a national investigation into mental health inpatient settings.”

Read more:
NHS psychiatric care ‘collapsing’ amid ‘unsafe’ mixed wards, bed shortages and poor safeguarding
Inside ‘mental health bank’ helping children in ‘crisis’

An NHS spokesperson said: “Over 250 organisations have signed up to the first ever NHS sexual safety charter, launched last year in collaboration with healthcare systems and people with lived experience, to provide staff with clear reporting mechanisms, training and support, ensuring that a zero-tolerance approach to tackling sexual misconduct is taken.

“The NHS has made clear that every provider of our services has a legal and moral duty to safeguard patients, to report all incidents of sexual violence, and to take appropriate action with the criminal justice system and safeguarding bodies where harm has occurred.”

If you are impacted by this story, or believe that you experienced sexual abuse in mental health inpatient care, please contact the Rape Crisis England & Wales helpline on 0808 500 2222.

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