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Sexual Abuse revealed in NHS Scandal

By Emily Cleal-Bramley

Almost 20,000 reports of sexual incidents in the last five years have been made in more than half of NHS mental health trusts, according to exclusive data uncovered in a joint investigation and podcast by The Independent and Sky News.

The shocking findings, triggered by one woman’s dramatic story of escape following a sexual assault in hospital, revealed in a podcast, show NHS trusts are failing to report the majority of incidents to the police and are not meeting vital standards designed to protect the UK’s most vulnerable patients from sexual harm.

Almost 20,000 sexual incidents were reported between 2019 and November 2023; both staff assaults on patients and patients assaulting other patients. With the figures suggesting that less than 5% of sexual incidents reported to hospitals were referred to the police over the same period. Among these, were 800 allegations of rape and serious assaults on women. Mixed sex wards, despite being banned a decade ago, are still in use across NHS mental health care with more than 500 reports of sexual assault since 2019, and just six out of 50 hospitals were able to prove they were meeting NHS standards aimed at protecting patients from sexual harm. 

Amidst the cacophony of crises gripping the United Kingdom’s National Health Services (NHS), a damning revelation has emerged, shedding light on a dark underbelly within the country’s psychiatric units. In an extensive investigation jointly conducted by The Independent’s Rebecca Thomas, and Sky News’s Rob Mulhern, the harrowing truth has been unveiled: a pervasive pattern of sexual assault and rape within NHS mental health trusts.

The findings are nothing short of alarming. Nearly 20,000 reports of sexual incidents have surfaced over the past half-decade, implicating more than half of the NHS mental health trusts across the nation. These facilities, intended to serve as sanctuaries for individuals grappling with mental health challenges, have become breeding grounds for exploitation and abuse. Perhaps even more distressing is the revelation that NHS trusts are failing to adequately address these atrocities.

Shockingly, the figures reveal that just 982, less than 5 percent of the reported sexual incidents, were referred to the police over the same period, highlighting a concerning lack of accountability and response to these crimes. Moreover, the investigation has uncovered a glaring failure on the part of NHS trusts to meet established standards aimed at safeguarding the vulnerable individuals entrusted to their care, with just six out of 50 hospitals were able to prove they were meeting NHS standards aimed at protecting patients from sexual harm.

The implications of this revelation are profound and multifaceted. Beyond the immediate trauma inflicted upon victims, the systemic failure to address and prevent such heinous acts calls into question the very foundations of the NHS’s commitment to patient welfare and safety. In the face of mounting staff shortages, chronic underfunding, and a burgeoning backlog of patients, the revelation of widespread sexual assault serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for comprehensive reform within the UK healthcare system.

Alexis Quinn, a mother and former swimming star, sought support from mental health services following her brother’s death and self-admitted to Littlebrook Hospital in Kent in 2013. Patient 11 – a joint podcast from Sky News and The Independent – uncovers her harrowing story of abuse and sexual assault, leading to the exposure of a scandalous underbelly of rape, sexual assault and harassment that is plaguing the NHS.

Within hours of her admission to a mental health ward, Alexis Quinn claimed that she was sexually assaulted by a male patient after being placed on an all-male ward. Miss. Quinn ran and informed the staff of the incident, but according to her account, they attempted to send her back to the ward where her attacker remained. Feeling distressed and panicked, she alleges that she was restrained and subsequently placed in solitary confinement. Despite the eventual apology from the trust, Quinn’s ordeal persisted when, within months, she faced another assault, this time on a mixed-sex ward. She was also denied basic rights afforded to her as a self-admitted patient, which triggered an autistic meltdown.

In both instances, Alexis’s alleged attackers faced no criminal action.

Speaking to the Independent, Quinn stated that she “blames the system” for putting her in that situation, going on to say that “this is a systemic problem”. She also stated that she “thought it was just me, but it’s not just me, it’s thousands”.

In January of 2023 in an article published by the Independent, Anthony Omo, general counsel and director of fitness to practise at the General Medical Council, said that “there is no place for any form of sexual misconduct in the healthcare services”, before going on to say that “sexual assault is a criminal offence, and any doctor who has committed such acts should be investigated by the police”

In a chilling testament to the human toll exacted by the systemic failures within NHS psychiatric units, the accounts of Rivkah Grant, 34, and Stephanie Tutty, 28, stand as stark reminders of the profound injustices suffered by vulnerable patients under the guise of care. Grant claims to have been was targeted by an NHS staff member and sexually abused, with Tutty, mother of two, making similar claims, According to the Independent.

In a resounding condemnation of the abhorrent revelations brought to light by The Independent’s investigation into sexual assault within NHS psychiatric units, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting told the Independent that ‘it will appal every decent person that these horrific crimes were committed against patients at their most vulnerable. The fact these have taken place in the NHS is chilling”. 

Speaking to the Independent, Miss Grant recounted her experience of being sexually assaulted in 2016 by an NHS staff member at Chase Farm Hospital in north London.

Despite her desperate pleas for help, Miss Grant alleges that her cries fell on deaf ears, as staff members purportedly turned a blind eye to her distress. Even after a complaint had been lodged and the staff member suspended, Miss Grant found herself trapped in a nightmarish cycle of trauma and despair, as staff made her sleep in the same room the following night. Miss Grant says her trauma was made worse when she was then moved to a mixed-sex ward, making her too scared to leave her room due to the male patients outside, robbing her of the basic sense of security that should have been afforded to a patient. She went on to share this harrowing comment: “I’ve learned that there is no safety in mental health hospitals”. Following a painstaking police investigation, her attacker was brought to justice, and was convicted in June 2017.

The damning findings of The Independent’s investigation lay bare a disturbing reality within the NHS: the persistence of sexual assaults and incidents on mixed-sex wards or communal areas. Shockingly, records reveal that since 2019 alone, at least 500 such incidents have been documented across NHS trusts, serving as a distressing reminder of the pervasive vulnerabilities faced by patients within these supposedly safe spaces.

What makes this revelation all the more troubling is the glaring dissonance between promise and practice. In 2010, the Conservative government made a solemn pledge to eradicate the use of mixed-sex wards within the NHS, recognizing the inherent risks posed by such arrangements. Fourteen years on, however, it is abundantly clear that this pledge has yet to be fulfilled. Despite assurances of reform and progress, the specter of mixed-sex wards continues to loom large, perpetuating a cycle of harm and indignity for those in need of care.

According to The Guardian, in 2009, Channel 4 discovered that almost two-thirds of sexual assaults by patients in hospitals took place in mixed-sex wards. The fact that this issue has persisted for over a decade speaks to a profound failure on the part of successive governments to prioritize the safety and well-being of patients within a framework intended to support, rather than abuse, the most vulnerable.

The Independent and Sky News also unearthed a staggering number of allegations encompassing a wide spectrum of sexual misconduct, spanning from abuse and rape to sexually inappropriate behaviour or language. These incidents were documented across over 30 out of the 52 NHS mental health trusts since 2019. However, the true extent of this scandal may be even more profound, as the figures do not encompass private hospitals, where hundreds of NHS patients are referred each year.

Another of the victims of this egregious pattern of behaviour was Nima Cass Hunt, who suffered grooming and abuse in a Huntercombe Group hospital at the hands of care worker Marcus Daniell when she was 16. In 2020 Daniell, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his horrific crimes.

Hunt warned that under-staffed mental health services are failing to protect patients, telling reporters that “There is something terribly wrong with the protocols that intend to keep patients in mental health hospitals safe when patients are still exposed to sexual abuse despite obvious signs, indicators and even disclosures” when she was speaking to the Independent.

In 2020, following national concerns raised by the Care Quality Commission regarding sexual abuse within mental health services, the NHS established guidelines known as the “sexual safety collaboratives.” Despite the acknowledged risks, NHS trusts continue to fall short of meeting the standards outlined in these guidelines, with only six hospitals providing evidence of compliance to date.


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