I was abused in hospital – the ‘no touch’ policy only made it worse

Staff had ‘favourite’ patients and intense relationships with patients weren’t challenged. The man who groomed me used this to his advantage, writes former Huntercombe patient Nima Hunt

Monday 29 January 2024 08:41 GMT
When I tried to raise concerns about the way I was treated, I was ridiculed and shamed
When I tried to raise concerns about the way I was treated, I was ridiculed and shamed (Getty)

I was 16 when I was first admitted to Watcombe Hall, a children’s mental health hospital in Torbay run by The Huntercombe Group (now Active Care Group). By the time Watcombe Hall was permanently closed in 2017, despite having only been open for two years, at least three children had been the victims of grooming and sexual abuse. I was one of those children.

It’s difficult to identify exactly when my abuser started grooming me, because from the moment I stepped onto the ward the stage was already set; Watcombe Hall was the perfect breeding ground for abuse. Shift staff were overstretched and exhausted. Incident rates (of self-harm and absconsions) were high, so staff were “firefighting” between incidents without debriefs.

At times, the hospital was so understaffed that patients weren’t able to access the garden. Management was non-existent, and the senior multi-disciplinary team worked in offices outside of the ward, sometimes not seeing their patients or shift staff for days at a time. All this created a tense, chaotic and distressing environment, where scenes of violence and suffering, innate power imbalances and deprivations of liberty were normalised.

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