Broadmoor review over `breaking point' claim

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The Independent Online
A high-level management review at Broadmoor special hospital in Berkshire will be announced today by Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, to examine allegations that security is at "breaking point".

The review was prompted by a Prison Officers' Association report which criticised security and staffing levels at Broadmoor, highlighting intimidation of staff by patients, and the lack of experienced nurses.

The POA's warnings came after allegations that a seven-year-old girl visiting the hospital had been assaulted by a sex offender housed there, and that pornographic videos had been found in the possession of a patient.

The Broadmoor review follows an inquiry launched by Mr Dorrell at Ashworth hospital in Merseyside last month over allegations that a paedophile ring was operating there.

The examination of the Berkshire hospital will be undertaken by the Oxford and Anglia Health Authority, which will report back by the end of the month. It will focus on the controversial Patients' Council, a consultation body run by the patients which deals with conditions and complaints against staff.

Each ward of 20 to 30 patients elects one member to the council, which meets every week. Its previous requests for patients to be allowed access to the hospital's internal telephone system and to sit in on the interview of a coordinator for the council have both been turned down and the POA believes the Patients' Council threatens stability in the hospital.

Welcoming the review, the Association's general secretary, David Evans, said: "We can understand management wanting to hear the views of patients, but I believe they have gone over the top with the Patients' Council. It appears that, on several occasions, patients have had more say in the running of the hospital than staff."

Mr Dorrell, who will announce the review to the House of Commons today, told BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend yesterday that "serious concerns" had been raised. "The management believe they have been answered but I think given proper public concern about these hospitals, it's important that there is an external evaluation and that is what I am in the process of providing," he said.

On Saturday, Mr Dorrell said he would not tolerate "any misguided liberalism in this institution".

Broadmoor Hospital refused to comment yesterday on the allegations or on the Health Secretary's review. However, in an earlier statement, the hospital confirmed that the Patients' Council had been temporarily suspended for two weeks up until its most recent meeting last Thursday, but the suspension had now been lifted.

A hospital spokesman said the role of the Patients' Council had been exaggerated and most discussions centred around issues such as the patients' shop. "It does not have any powers. It is merely a forum set up to voice patient views," he said.

"The Council represents all patients in order to ensure the collective interests of patients are addressed and minority views are respected.

"The hospital uses it as a form of consultation. But it does not have the power or the ability to take decisions relating to the hospital's management or the way it is run," he added.