Last update 27th. August 2004


Mental ward probe into abuse charges

Hampstead and Highgate Express August 27 2004

Ham&High story alerts patients' group to Royal Free allegations

Luke David

AN INDEPENDENT probe has been launched into allegations of widespread drink and drug abuse in the locked mental health wards of the Royal Free Hospital.

A further allegation that stealing is rife inside the hospital in Pond Street, South End Green, is also being investigated by the Patients and Public Involvement forum (PPI).

The PPI launched its investigation after the Ham&High reported claims made by a former patient a fortnight ago.

They say they the patient's claims are very similar to two other former patients of the mental health wing, which is run by the Camden and Islington Mental Health and Social Care Trust.

Marie (not her real name) spent a year locked up in the Alice and Helen Boyle wards after being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

She says she was subjected to violence, attempted rape and two sexual assaults by in-patients.

She also claims staff did nothing to stop her possessions from being stolen and failed to take her complaints seriously.

Forum member Nick Green, of Belsize Grove, made a preliminary visit to the Helen Boyle Ward last Tuesday and has since sent a list of questions to the ward's bosses, who have a statutory duty to answer them within a 20-day period.

He said: "We would like the Trust to describe their routine procedures for dealing with theft, assault and the use of intoxicants, alcohol and marijuana, including at what point police are involved.

"There is also the question of misinterpreting patient anger with the incompetence and untruths of care staff leading to inappropriate sedation and continued sectioning of patients.

"How is this question routinely decided? There is an unfortunate impression that organisation is for the convenience of staff rather than supporting the therapeutic needs of patients."

Marie said the PPI probe was needed. "I have expressed opinions, reported numerous incidents of abuse, both physical, verbal and sexual and my reports have been ignored.

"A patient who has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act has all rights taken away so the PPI is needed to represent them."

A spokeswoman for the Trust said: "We have a robust policy to combat assaults, theft, alcoholic and drugs to combat assaults, theft, alcoholic and drugs.

"We are aware that, with the assistance of a forum member, a Ham&High journalist gained unauthorised entry to patient care areas on August 17, 2004.

"This was a serious breach of patient privacy that the care trust will be formally complaining about to the forum and to the chairman of the company that owns the Ham&High."

These are some of the questions the PPI has asked Professor Taylor, chairman of the Camden and Islington Mental Health and Social

Care Trust, to answer:

  1. How many thefts and assaults were reported by in-patients last year and how many were investigated?
  2. What measures are taken to secure patients' property?
  3. What is the Trust's policy on patients drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and cannabis and how is it enforced?
  4. How is the appropriate dose of a patient's medication reviewed and decided?
  5. What is the rate of staff error and what kinds of error are most common?
  6. What is the Trust's policy on releasing patients to visit local shops and cafes and how many patients abscond while on these visits?
  7. Contact Luke David