Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

BBC investigation uncovers patient abuse at one of the UK’s largest mental health hospitals

Patients at a mental health hospital in Greater Manchester have been subject to abuse, mistreatment, and inappropriate restraint and seclusion, a BBC Panorama investigation has revealed.

A consultant psychiatrist, Dr Cleo Van Velsen, said the investigation has exposed a “toxic culture” among staff, with clear evidence of “corruption, perversion, aggression, hostility” and a “lack of boundaries”.

Staff were seen to swear at, slap and pinch patients

The Edenfield Centre is one of the biggest mental health hospitals in the UK and can cater for more than 150 patients.

The hospital is a medium-secure facility intended to care for people held under the Mental Health Act who are at serious risk of harming themselves or others. This includes people who have a learning disability or autism.

An undercover BBC reporter, Alan Haslam, began working at the hospital as a support worker following allegations about poor staff behaviour and patient safety at the hospital.

By wearing a hidden camera, Mr Haslam recorded various incidents of abuse and mistreatment. This includes:

  • Staff swearing, slapping and pinching patients
  • Inappropriate use of restraint
  • Inappropriate seclusion of patients for long periods (some of whom had been secluded for months, with only brief breaks)
  • Staff failing to regularly carry out patient observations
  • Staff acting in a sexualised manner towards patients

“Everything in this place has made me worse”

Patients held at the Edenfield Centre told the BBC that the hospital had done nothing to improve their condition, with one saying: “Everything in this place has made me worse”.

One of the patients was reportedly kept in a seclusion room for more than a year, with no access to outside space. The seclusion rooms at the hospital are small, and some have mould on the walls, peeling paint, a smell of sewage and windows that don’t open.

According to hospital guidelines, patients should not be kept segregated unless it is absolutely necessary. In these circumstances, a team of experts and the patient’s family must oversee this decision and their case should be regularly reviewed.

Patient observations should also be carried out regularly to ensure that patients are safe and not harming themselves or others. These observations were frequently missed, and staff would often falsify the paperwork to make it look as though they had carried out the necessary checks.

Without regular ‘obs’ reports, it is harder to staff to monitor patients’ progress or deterioration, which makes it more difficult to make decisions about their care.

From these findings, it seems that patient safety protocols are not being observed and the wellbeing of patients is not being prioritised.

The same failings in care 11 years on from the Winterbourne View scandal

The investigation is the latest in a long line since the Winterbourne View scandal in 2011. Following the scandal, the Transforming Care programme was launched. The programme aimed to drastically reduce the number of people with a learning disability or autism admitted to mental health hospitals and improve the care for those that could not be discharged into the community.

More than 11 years later, around 2,000 people with learning disabilities and autism are still stuck in these secure facilities, and many more reports have emerged revealing the poor treatment of these inpatients at mental health hospitals.

The Department of Health and Social Care says they have implemented legislation which aims to reduce the inappropriate use of force and ensure accountability, but clearly, these laws, programmes and reports are not going far enough.

In a linked editorial, Alison Holt, Social Affairs Editor for the BBC, says that this latest investigation highlights “the gap between promises made following a scandal and the reality of care for too many patients”.

While the NHS Trust running Edenfield says it is taking the allegations very seriously and has taken action to safeguard patients, there is widespread concern that nothing will change, and the same pattern of abuse will continue.

It seems there is deep-rooted, systemic issues within the mental health system, in that hospitals designed to help the most vulnerable repeatedly fail to do so, and sometimes even make patients’ conditions worse.

Ms Holt questions what these patients’ lives would look like now if the promises made 11 years ago were fulfilled. Speaking about two of Edenfield’s patients, Olivia and Harley, she writes: “Olivia has spent three and a half years at Edenfield. And after two years there, Harley has been moved to another hospital.

“Both remain very unwell and their behaviour is still challenging. When Olivia says the place is making her worse, and Harley that it is killing her, they are telling us this isn’t working.

“It raises a question that is far wider than one hospital – what difference might it have made in their young lives if promises made more than a decade ago had led to more help when they first needed it?”

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