Report says hospital regime 'brutalising'

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The Independent Online
SEVEN nursing staff will be suspended from a top security mental hospital damned in a report today by government advisers for its 'brutalising, stagnant and oppressive' regime. The seven, all members of the Prison Officers' Association (POA), face possible disciplinary charges over alleged abuse or neglect of patients over the past five years at Ashworth special hospital on Merseyside.

A report on one male nurse, who has refused to co-operate with an internal investigation into a sexual assault on a female patient, is being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The crackdown comes after a year-long inquiry whose highly critical report, published today, questions whether Ashworth and its two sister hospitals, Rampton and Broadmoor, can be reformed.

The inquiry team, headed by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, has told ministers that the 'negative attitudes' of a large minority of Ashworth staff are largely responsible for the 'profoundly depressing' hospital culture. A summary of its three-volume report and 90 recommendations, seen by the Independent, states: 'The all-pervading nature of an oppressive sub-culture at Ashworth, that persistently undermines the therapeutic approach and places constraints on those who do not conform to it, was made clear.

'The problems of Ashworth in the late 1980s stemmed from a lack of commitment by some nursing staff, a lack of clinical leadership, an absence of firm hospital management, leaving a power vacuum which was only too readily filled by the POA.'

Letters to the inquiry from patients said the hospital was rife with 'union gangs' and, as one put it, 'hundreds of mini-Hitlers'. The minority of women patients suffered particularly 'demeaning and anti-therapeutic' treatment.

In a strong attack on the POA last night, David Blunkett, the Labour health spokesman, said: 'They should be deeply ashamed. Their attitude indicates how important it is to break with the vested interests and outdated and ignorant thinking of the past.'

The union last night declined to comment on the criticisms.

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