Broadmoor's heritage status blamed for high suicide rate

Bars, curtain rails and hooks used by suicidal patients have to be kept

Broadmoor hospital, Britain's best-known high-security mental institution, was forbidden from removing windows bars used by patients to hang themselves because it was felt it would damage the nation's architectural heritage, a report reveals today. Between 2001 and 2008, there were eight suicides, five by hanging, at the former Victorian asylum in Crowthrone, Berkshire, that houses about 260 of England's most dangerous and violent psychiatric patients. At the country's two other high-security mental hospitals – Rampton in Nottinghamshire and Ashworth in Liverpool – there was only one suicide over the same period.

Removing ligature points such as hooks, curtain rails and bars from mental health wards dramatically reduces suicide rates, studies have shown. But Broadmoor, built in 1863, was prevented from going ahead with the work because older buildings on the site are Grade II-listed. A report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) into the West London Mental Health Trust that runs Broadmoor paints a grim picture of an institution blighted by weak management, poor staffing and training, inadequate facilities and overcrowding. The hospital's chief executive left last week to take up a new post in London, and a new chairman joined the health trust in January.

Concerns about Broadmoor's failure properly to care for its patients, who are the most disturbed in the mental health system, have been raised repeatedly over the past 20 years. In 2003 the hospital was described as "totally unfit for purpose" and lacking "basic standards of dignity and privacy" by the Commission for Health Improvement, a former NHS regulator. "That remains the case today," the CQC says in its report.

Inquiries into patient deaths at all the hospitals run by West London Mental Health Trust highlighted the risks posed by ligature points. But Broadmoor executives told the CQC they could not do all the remedial work, such as removing window bars, because English Heritage had forbidden them from doing so. Margaret McGlynn, who led the commission's investigation, said: "They said they had had talks with English Heritage, and this is what they were told. What we don't know is how hard they pressed it."

The managers' response was not good enough, she said, adding: "They have got to find their way round these problems until they get what patients need, whether it's more staff, better training or other measures. We didn't get a sense of the frustration we would expect to see. There was complacency and acceptance of mediocre standards."

Barbara Young, the chairman of the Commission for Health Improvement, said: "I would expect the trust, if it had serious doubts about the ligature points, to go to English Heritage and absolutely lay down the law. We are talking about patient safety. This is an example where they ought not to have taken [the English Heritage response] lying down."

Nigel Barker, an English Heritage case officer for Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, said: "We are aware those buildings are causing great problems in delivering care and that adapting them is very difficult and we are working with the trust on plans for redevelopment. But no one has mentioned to me the problem with the bars and to the best of my knowledge they have not been discussed.

"If there had been cases where patients hanged themselves from the bars we would treat it very seriously. Just because a building is listed does not mean it cannot be changed. We would ask what is the justification and, if it were to reduce suicides, then that would be a robust justification."

Plans to refurbish Broadmoor were drawn up in 2003 but are still awaiting final approval. The provisional completion date of 2016 could slip back to 2023 because of the credit crunch and public spending squeeze.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Danny Cipriani of England breaks clear to score his second try
Life and Style
New research says leaving your desk can help you to avoid serious illness
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral