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Over 1,000 sexual assaults in NHS mixed-sex mental health wards

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The Health Service Journal (UK) reports that it has obtained new figures that show there have been at least 1,019 reports of sexual assaults between men and women on mixed wards since April 2017 to October 2019. This compares to just 286 reports of incidents on single-sex mental health wards over the same period. Of those reports made on mixed-sex wards, 491 were considered serious enough to refer to safeguarding, and 104 were reported to the police.

The Health Service Journal (UK) reports that it has obtained new figures that show there have been at least 1,019 reports of sexual assaults between men and women on mixed wards since April 2017 to October 2019. This compares to just 286 reports of incidents on single-sex mental health wards over the same period. Of those reports made on mixed-sex wards, 491 were considered serious enough to refer to safeguarding, and 104 were reported to the police.

The report says the level of incidents still being reported suggests patients are not being protected from sexual assault on mixed wards, despite the issue being highlighted by several national reports in recent years. And, it says, the figures – provided by 47 mental health trusts out of a total 56 – have sparked calls for government to tighten rules on mixed-sex wards in mental health, and to fund the building improvements, which are often needed.

Government has previously pledged to eliminate mixed-sex accommodation across all National Health Service (NHS) hospitals, and monthly data on breaches shows all trusts but one, Pennine Care, are reporting zero breaches of current rules. However, the report says, these rules do not require genuine single-sex wards.

The figures supplied to HSJ under freedom of information rules reveal there are hundreds of mixed-gender wards and communal areas still in use: The trusts which responded had in total 668 mixed-sex wards and 803 mixed-sex communal areas.

Mental health charities said this situation was not good enough. Mind warned: “For many people, the reason they are being supported in a mental health setting is because they have experienced sexual assault. They should be able to expect that they won’t be re-traumatised by their environment. This is why these wards have no place in a modern healthcare system.

Rethink called on government to implement the Mental Health Act Review findings and argued: “Mixed sex wards pose an unnecessary and avoidable risk to patients. The recognised that increased funding is necessary to reduce the number of sexual assaults… it’s imperative [government] implements the recommendations.”

The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond when asked by HSJ if it would change its definition of single-sex accommodation in line with the review’s recommendation, but said its response to the review would be published soon. It added: “Sexual abuse in the NHS will never be tolerated. We take every allegation of abuse extremely seriously and we expect every report of sexual assault on patients or staff to be immediately investigated by trusts.

“Men and women should not share hospital accommodation and we’ve cut mixed-sex accommodation breaches by over 85 per cent since 2010.”

The report says NHS England were approached for comment.

Health Service Journal report

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