The move follows interim findings of an inquiry by the Special Hospitals Service Authority, responsible for the country's three special secure hospitals, into the death of Bryan Marsh, 42. A patient for 12 years, he died in the 'seclusion' or solitary confinement room, after being restrained by staff following an incident in the dining room of the Nottinghamshire hospital's rehabilitation villa.
The Prison Officers Association, which represents most of the nursing staff at Rampton was said to be 'furious' at the decision to suspend the nurses, but had apparently rejected suggestions to take industrial action over the issue.
The hospitals authority was prompted to launch its inquiry three weeks after Mr Marsh's death, following a second post-mortem examination, arranged by Paul Bacon, the solicitor representing his family. It suggested Mr Marsh had been held by the neck at the time of a heart attack. Guidelines on restraint methods warn against using the neck.
That second post-mortem examination, by Professor Iain West, a Home Office pathologist, also led to the re-interviewing and subsequent arrest two weeks ago of nine nurses by Nottinghamshire police. The force is now preparing a report for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who will decide whether any charges should follow.
The first autopsy revealing the heart attack as the cause of death did not apparently contain evidence of use of force. Nevertheless the SHSA was criticised for initially failing to properly investigate the circumstances surrounding the use of control and restraint on Mr Marsh. Staff versions of events leading to his death were said to have differed from that given by patients.
The suspensions come at a crucial time for the authority, also responsible for Ashworth in Liverpool and Broadmoor, in Berkshire.
An independent inquiry report into alleged abuse at Ashworth is expected to be published later this month and an inquiry is also underway into the deaths of three patients at Broadmoor. Since taking over responsibility for the three special hospitals, and following allegations over the years of abuse of patients by staff, the authority had promised greater openness, better methods of dealing with complaints and a regime that relies more on therapy and less on security.
But Rampton is regarded by welfare staff and lawyers to have a less oppressive regime than the other two and yesterday Mr Bacon, said he 'did not think Mr Marsh's death was symptomatic of malaise within the hospital'.
'Twelve years ago there were serious problems at Rampton. But things have improved greatly. I think this was a one- off incident.'
The POA said yesterday in a statement that the decision to suspend staff was 'disgraceful'. Bob Russell, the POA chairman at Rampton said: 'We understand that when serious allegations are made against nursing staff it is sometimes necessary to take action in the public interest. But on this occasion we feel that the suspensions are window dressing to hide the inadequacies of the SHSA's management.'