High-security hospitals are given 'reprieve': Report seeks scaling down, but not closure, of Broadmoor, Rampton and Ashworth

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BROADMOOR, Rampton and Ashworth top security special hospitals should be scaled down but not closed, a government-appointed committee has recommended after an inquiry into the future of secure facilities for mentally disordered offenders. Up to three new high-security special hospitals should be built in different locations to accommodate about half of the 1,700 patients now housed in the three existing special hospitals in England, a report submitted this week concludes.

The number of beds in regional medium-security units, into which special hospital patients are usually discharged, should be increased. And the rehabilitation of patients and discharge arrangements from regional secure units should be improved.

These changes would stop patients being trapped in high-security conditions when they are ready to be discharged, and would make room for offenders who are in prison but should be receiving treatment in hospital.

Bed blocking is a problem in all the hospitals. A spokesman for Rampton said at least 10 per cent of patients should not be there but could not be accommodated in outside hostel or secure unit facilities.

The report was given to Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, after a joint Home Office and Department of Health review, chaired by Dr John Reed, senior principal medical officer at the Department of Health.

Broadmoor in Berkshire, Rampton in Nottinghamshire and Ashworth on Merseyside, house some of the most dangerous mentally disordered offenders in England. Rumours that they were threatened with closure were heightened last month after claims that a draft of the Reed report had been leaked. The reports on BBC radio caused near-panic among staff and patients.

Their reprieve will be welcomed by unions representing staff, including the Prison Officers' Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Confederation of Health Service Employees.

The Reed recommendations are broadly in line with proposals submitted by the Special Hospitals Services Authority which runs the three hospitals. Charles Kaye, its chief executive, told a conference last month that the dispersal of patients to three new hospitals would be part of a progression and evolution of the service.

The Reed review was ordered by Mrs Bottomley last September when an inquiry by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper revealed a brutalising and 'dehumanising' regime at Ashworth. This fuelled controversy over standards of care in special hospitals after the death of a patient after a 'violent incident' at Rampton hospital last May.

A manslaughter charge against a male nurse was dropped earlier this month and charges against him and four other men, of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, were recently dismissed when magistrates decided they had no case to answer. After an internal inquiry one of the five was dismissed. A spokesman said that the hospital could not comment on the circumstances of the death until after the inquest later this year.

The Reed report is expected to be published next month and Mrs Bottomley will consult senior advisers before announcing any proposals.