Health secretary urges patients to report ‘horrific’ sexual abuse allegations after Independent investigation

Victoria Atkins says we must ‘drive out’ criminal behaviours such as those uncovered in a joint investigation by The Independent and Sky News

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 21 February 2024 19:16 GMT
Victoria Atkins says government 'must not' interfere in police investigation on BBC presenter

Health secretary Victoria Atkins has said mental health patients and staff must report the “horrific” sexual abuse allegations uncovered by The Independent to the police.

Ms Atkins said victims would have her full support if they reported their claims to the police.

Her intervention comes following a joint investigation by The Independent and Sky News, which revealed almost 20,000 reports of sexual harassment and abuse on NHS mental health wards in England.

The allegations uncovered include patients claiming to have been raped by staff and other patients while being treated on mental health wards.

In response to the initial investigation, Ms Atkins said a review launched last year into mental health services would now also look into sexual assault within the sector.

Speaking on Sky News, she said: “These are horrific allegations that should not and must not happen in our care. Very, very vulnerable people have to stay in mental health inpatient facilities, and they do so because they need care, support, and treatment.

“Some of the behaviours that have come to light are criminal offences, and so I would encourage anyone who feels able to – and I appreciate it is a difficult step – to go to the police and please report them, because they are crimes and we must drive them out.”

Her comments came after The Independent revealed that more than 1,300 reports had been made to the police of rape and sexual assault taking place in 340 mental health units, but just 26 charges had been identified.

Dozens of patients have come forward to The Independent and Sky News with complaints, and many say they were not listened to by hospital staff when making allegations of sexual assault. Some say they were told by police that their reports would be unlikely to result in anything being done.

Responding to the exposé, victims’ commissioner Helen Newlove has urged healthcare leaders to address the “sustained” failure to tackle the alleged sexual abuse and harassment of patients. The Commons health committee declined to comment.

Among the reports uncovered are some from patients who claim to have been assaulted on mixed-sex wards, which are still in use within NHS mental health services despite the government having promised in 2010 to abolish them.

In one story, former mental health hospital patient Alexis Quinn, speaking on an exclusive podcast, alleged that she had been sexually assaulted twice – once after being admitted to a men’s ward.


Experts including clinical negligence lawyers at Leigh Day have also called for the regulation of healthcare assistants, who are currently unregulated, as a first step towards tackling the problem of staff abusing patients.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England have previously not responded when asked about plans to tackle mixed-sex care and introduce regulation for healthcare assistants. However, the DHSC has said it will be publishing new guidance on mixed-sex care shortly.

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