Security clampdown at special hospitals

Ministers order draconian new measures to monitor patients' activities
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Hundreds of patients being treated in Britain's secure hospitals face a new security clampdown under a raft of draconian measures being introduced by the Government.

Hundreds of patients being treated in Britain's secure hospitals face a new security clampdown under a raft of draconian measures being introduced by the Government.

Nursing staff at Broadmoor, Ashworth and Rampton have been ordered to swab the mouths of mentally ill patients for traces of alcohol and take hair samples so they can test the strands for drug use.

Mental health campaigners say these new measures are another example of the Government's increasingly custodial approach to the care of mental health patients, many of whom have never been convicted of any crime.

In some special circumstances, health ministers have even allowed NHS managers to monitor patients' telephone calls. They will also be allowed greater control over patients' access to computer games and to lock up those with serious personality disorders in their rooms overnight.

Mental health campaigners have condemned the new security measures, issued last month by the Department of Health. They say they will increase the stigma against the mentally ill and fuel the public misconception that people with mental health problems are dangerous.

The Independent on Sunday is campaigning for better treatment for the mentally ill, including those held in secure hospitals. This paper has highlighted the plight of hundreds of patients wrongly incarcerated in secure hospitals who cannot be moved because there are not enough beds in medium-security units.

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in security measures at Broadmoor, in Berkshire, Ashworth, on Merseyside, and Rampton, in Nottinghamshire. Patients in these hospitals are already banned from receiving food or tobacco sent from outside. Increased security measures were introduced in response to a report into special hospitals by Sir Richard Tilt, the former director of prisons. However, four years ago, an inquiry by the Mental Health Act Commission found that chronic staff shortages at secure hospitals meant that psychiatric nurses were unable to provide little more than custodial care for patients. The report also found that many patients did not require such a high level of security.

Alan Franey, a former director of Broadmoor and now director of a health charity, said millions had been spent on security at secure hospitals at the expense of patient care.

"There is a public view that people who have committed hideous crimes should be punished. but people who have disturbed minds are entitled to treatment," said Mr Franey, director of Buckinghamshire Association for Mental Health. "Mental illness is not about dangerousness, and this will further stigmatise mental illness."

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