The forgotten inmates

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The Government must stick to its promise and fund more suitable accommodation for the forgotten patients of Broadmoor.

It usually takes a terrible crime for us to remember that Broadmoor and Britain's two other special hospitals, Rampton and Ashworth, exist. They are mentioned only when the most disturbed of killers are sent to them after conviction. They house people such as Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, and Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer. But, as we report today, inside their walls, around 400 patients are trapped, forgotten.

They are kept there needlessly because of a failure to develop accommodation for people who do not need such high-security care. Some of them have been waiting for five years or more for a transfer to more suitable accommodation. Their incarceration is maintained at enormous cost: to themselves, to their families, and to the public purse. Keeping someone inside Broadmoor takes £100,000 a year. A heavy price is paid elsewhere, too. Other disturbed people, convicted of major crimes, are kept in prison when what is really required is psychiatric treatment. Mental health services are gridlocked.

It is three years since Sir Richard Tilt, the former prison service director-general, identified that hundreds of patients are ready for transfer, or even discharge, after treatment from the special hospitals. A year later, the Government announced that up to £25m should be spent on additional long-term psychiatric beds to provide for patients needlessly kept in these hospitals.

Yet little appears to have changed. That is not surprising. It takes long enough in this country for action to be taken to improve services for people suffering from, say, heart disease or breast cancer. They are the deserving sick. For far too many of us, the mentally ill are the undeserving. Few people, apart from their beleaguered relatives, feel any compunction to do something about their plight.

But to keep people locked away not getting the treatment they need is hardly the action of a civilised society. The Government must stick to its promise and fund more suitable accommodation for the forgotten patients of Broadmoor. Such a move will have beneficial repurcussions elsewhere, ending logjams in prisons. But, more importantly, the Government will have discharged its duty, a duty it bears to the most vulnerable and the least visible in society.