Ashworth report spurs review by Government

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The Independent Online
The treatment and care of England's most dangerous and disturbed psychiatric patients is to be reviewed by government advisers, placing a question mark over the future of Ashworth, Broadmoor and Rampton, its three special hospitals.

The review was ordered in response to revelations of a 'brutalising, stagnant and oppressive'

regime spanning a decade at Ashworth special hospital on Merseyside.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, said she was 'deeply disturbed' by the report, published yesterday, of a committee of inquiry headed by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper which upheld most of the 120 complaints

of patient abuse by staff at the

hospital.

Seven nursing staff, all Prison Officers' Association members, were yesterday suspended from duty pending disciplinary hearings. Brian Johnson, Ashworth's general manager, and Joseph Silvester, the hospital's medical director, were moved to other posts.

The review of the care provided by the three special hospitals will be grafted on to an existing inquiry by a committee chaired by John Reed, senior principal medical officer at the Department of Health and a former psychiatrist.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Mrs Bottomley said: 'We have to be satisfied that provision for this dangerous and difficult group is appropriate and effective and carries the confidence of the profession, the public and patients alike.'

The task of the inquiry was to find a way to 'strike the right balance between the need to protect the public and ensure a therapeutic and caring environment for patients', she said.

However, Sir Louis, who is chairman of the Mental Health Act Commission, expressed disappointment that the Government had not opted for a more powerful and searching overall review. Asked how he viewed the Government's reaction to his report, Sir Louis said: 'At the moment one would think it is a less than wholehearted response.'

The Prison Officers' Association, whose members began an overtime ban in protest at the dismissal of two staff at Ashworth two weeks ago, said the allegations made against it in the report were unsubstantiated.

Allegations emerging, page 6

Leading article, page 20

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