More than 40 NHS mental health patients make fresh rape and sexual assault allegations

Dozens more patients have come forward with stories of abuse following The Independent’s investigation

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
,Rob Mulhern
Friday 09 February 2024 16:36 GMT
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<p>The Huntercombe Group is facing a legal challenge from nine former patients</p>

The Huntercombe Group is facing a legal challenge from nine former patients

Dozens of new allegations of sexual assault and abuse, including claims of rape and of patients being made pregnant, have emerged following this newspaper’s investigation into Britain’s mental health wards.

One patient with a mental health disorder became pregnant by a member of staff. Allegations of rape, and of children being groomed by healthcare assistants, were among the 40 horrifying new reports of abuse made against rogue NHS Trusts.

The investigation, conducted by The Independent, alongside Sky News, revealed more than 20,000 allegations of sexual assault and harassment across more than 30 NHS England mental health trusts since 2019.

Several patients, who have come forward with their own harrowing stories, had allegedly been harmed by healthcare assistants, who currently are not regulated.

Natalie, whose name has been changed, was one of several patients groomed and asked to share sexually explicit photos by a healthcare assistant working at a children’s mental health ward in 2020.

Natalie, who was 16 at the time, told The Independent: “The first few conversations [after I was discharged] were very innocent. However after weeks and months, he started speaking in a sexual nature, asking me to send explicit photos of myself, posting explicit photos of himself and asking to meet up for sexual advances, I didn’t realise it at the time, but he was grooming me; this was all over Snapchat.

“I feel and still feel very small, and that I wasn’t looked at as a person [by the hospital], and they only saw me as a patient with no feelings that mattered. It felt like another incident at ... that just got swept under the rug.”

The staff member was convicted of multiple crimes, including two counts of making indecent images of children, one count of stalking and two breaches of an interim sexual risk order. A judge released him from custody at his sentencing hearing, according to the National Crime Agency.

The staff member had served seven months on remand and was unable to attend rehabilitation courses in prison. He was sentenced to 25 days of rehabilitation, 150 hours of unpaid work, and given a five-year sex offender notification requirement, and a five-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

In further horrific cases of abuse identified by Sky News and The Independent, a vulnerable patient fell pregnant after sex attacks in hospitals.

The patient, represented by solicitors Irwin Mitchell, fell pregnant while she was an inpatient at the Priory in Surrey. In 2022, a healthcare worker was convicted of sexual assault and jailed. His victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, remains in care.

Joy Popock, a patient being treated at Homerton University Hospital, claims she was told to go to her room and stop crying after making allegations that a drunk patient had groped her breasts while on a mixed-sex ward in 2007.

East London NHS Foundation Trust, which now runs the hospital, said it is “deeply concerned” about the alleged incident and the continued distress it had caused, but said all of its “adult work age” wards are single-sex.

The trust said it encourages all support service users and staff to report incidents of this nature to the police and its incident reporting system and that it has signed up to the NHS sexual safety charter.

In a further incident, patient Jacqueline Dean says she was sedated and raped by two staff members at a psychiatric hospital in Doncaster in 2017.

“I wasn’t even able to move, I was paralysed. I could see everything. I could feel everything. [But] I couldn’t do anything. Not anything at all,” she said.

Following her allegation of rape, Jacqueline was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The incident was reported to the police, but did not result in a conviction.

In response to her allegations, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust said it can confirm that six years ago it received a complaint which was investigated by the police. It said the trust concluded it should not proceed further as it did not believe a crime had been committed.

In a fourth story, Eleanor from Yorkshire, whose name has been changed, said she had been abused for six weeks by a healthcare assistant at Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust in 2008.

She reported the alleged abuse in 2012 after she had been discharged, which triggered an investigation by the trust and police. However, no police charges were brought.

She told The Independent that the trust’s response “was horrible”. She said: “Everything that I thought was compassionate care [and] the norm was not.”

The reports follow a major inquiry into sexual abuse by two consultant psychiatrists of several vulnerable female patients. The inquiry made several recommendations for the NHS.

Eleanor said: “The abuse was reframed as promiscuity [by staff] who said it was symptomatic of a personality disorder. It left me feeling suicidal and wanting to die ... It has completely, destroyed my trust in the NHS as a whole.”

Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust said it was aware of the original allegation. The trust said it is currently looking into allegations by the patient brought to its attention this week and due to the length of time that has passed since the alleged events took place, it cannot make specific comments at this time.

The scandal comes during a week-long national awareness campaign around sexual abuse.

Politicians are now demanding action, including Tory MP Sir Charles Walker. He told The Independent: “Hospital wards need to be safe places for patients and staff.

“The fact that this is not the case in many mental health inpatient environments is enormously concerning. We need to understand why mental health wards are not safe and why issues of sexual assault seem to be so pronounced. We need to know why this is going on.”

One senior NHS manager working in a mental health trust, told The Independent: “I do think some organisations don’t believe patients fundamentally. I think there’s a real reluctance to acknowledge the really bad things that have gone on: ‘Oh that couldn’t possibly have happened.’ Because we work in mental health, I don’t think people are always believed.

“But in my experience mental health services [also attract] not-so-good people; we work with vulnerable people and those bad people out there know that.”

She added that private hospitals were worse as they “close ranks” when allegations are made.

NHS nurse, Leanne Patrick told The Independent: “Despite the demonstrable impact on staff wellbeing and patient safety, the NHS is failing to adequately address sexual violence.

“The NHS needs to move away from being reactive and develop a solid prevention strategy and it needs to begin with valuing the lives, wellbeing and dignity of women and girls. At present it cannot even commit to single-sex wards, despite evidence of harm.”

NHS England was approached for comment and asked how hospitals are held to account for safeguarding patients against sexual assault. It said its current “sexual safety standards” are guidance and that there are no mandatory standards.

It said “Trusts are expected to follow guidance and are responsible for acting in accordance with the law, safeguarding patients and reporting sexual safety incidents”.

This story was updated to include a response from Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust and NHS England.

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