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Bid to increase sexual safety on mental health wards as 157 incidents reported in Norfolk and Suffolk this year

PUBLISHED: 16:00 07 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:43 07 October 2018

Mental health stock photo. Picture: Newscast Online

Mental health stock photo. Picture: Newscast Online

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More than 150 sexual safety issues have been reported at the region’s mental health trust this year, as regulators call for improvements nationwide.

Figures obtained through Freedom of Information law show there have been 64 reports of incidents involving sexual safety at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) this year so far where patients were the victim, and a further 93 where staff were the victim.

The definition of a sexual safety incident is wide ranging and can include anything from inappropriate language to rape.

But there were six cases this year where patients were victims of sexual assault, and only one instance had been reported to police.

The Care Quality Commission last month called for new national guidance to improve the sexual safety of patients and staff on mental health wards, following an analysis carried out by inspectors.

The investigation was prompted after inspectors in one of the CQC’s regional teams issued a requirement notice because an NHS mental health trust did not comply with the national guidance on eliminating mixed-sex accommodation on some of its mental health wards.

In 2011 the NHS told all providers accommodation had to be same-sex.

But in 2012, a woman detained on a mixed Norfolk mental health ward took her own life after hearing police would not press charges in an allegation of rape against a fellow patient.

Kylie Payne, 23, died on February 7, 2012 at Meadowlands, part of the Norvic Clinic, on Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew.

On Boxing Day, Miss Payne had text messaged her aunt saying she had been raped by a fellow patient, a man who at an inquest into Miss Payne’s death was branded a “risk” by a nurse due to previous alleged sexual offences.

Police investigated the rape claims but found insufficient evidence to proceed, and Miss Payne was found hanging in her bedroom the day after finding out.

Dr Bohdan Soloma, who was Miss Payne’s clinician at the time and is now NSFT medical director, told her inquest the man should not have been placed on the same ward.

He said: “Ideally it shouldn’t have happened and it highlighted problems with mixed gender wards.”

After Miss Payne’s death the trust said all secure facilities had been changed to single-sex accommodation and staff had to undergo risk assessment training.

Meadowlands was closed in 2013 as it was deemed not fit for purpose.

In a CQC inspection last year the watchdog raised concerns not all accommodation at NSFT was single sex.

But in the most recent inspection from August this year, the report said “the trust had addressed issues of mixed sex accommodation”.

The national analysis of nearly 60,000 reports made between April and June 2017 found 1,120 sexual incidents involving patients, staff, visitors and others described in 919 reports – some of which included multiple incidents. More than a third of the incidents (457) could be categorised as sexual assault or sexual harassment of patients or staff.

A report put together by the CQC said: “On too many wards, we found that the combination of a high number of detained patients who pose a risk to themselves and sometimes to others, old and unsuitable buildings, staff shortages and a lack of staff training, made it more likely that patients and staff are at risk of suffering harm.”

But they recognised moving to single-sex accommodation would not solve the problem and added: “As well as the cost and potential impact on out-of-area placements, this would not affect the significant proportion of incidents that involve people of the same gender or a staff member as the person who was affected by the unwanted behaviour.”

An NSFT spokesman said: “The safety of our service users and staff is of paramount importance. The very least people can expect is to be safe when they are in our care or working for our trust.

“People affected by mental ill health, such as those with a diagnosis of dementia, can lack capacity in terms of intentional behaviour and can at times act in disinhibited ways, making it more likely for them to engage in sexual behaviour than they would if they were well.

“The vast majority of incidents do not result in any physical harm and would not be regarded as a criminal offence but any incident is unacceptable to our Trust, not least because of the potential they have to cause psychological harm.

“We have an open culture and encourage service users and staff to report all incidents of this type. We take any report seriously, assess each one and refer them, if appropriate, to other agencies, such as the police, in line with our safeguarding responsibilities. In addition, we support the safety of those experiencing this type of incident with a range of practical and emotional interventions.”

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