RCN issues alert on sexual incidents on mental health wards

College responds to CQC report that suggests incidents are ‘commonplace’ on wards in England

College responds to CQC report that suggests incidents are ‘commonplace’ on wards in England

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The RCN has alerted nursing directors to the findings of a report that reveals sexual incidents on mental health wards in England are ‘commonplace’.

The report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which analysed data relating to 54 mental health trusts in England between April and June last year, lists allegations of rapes, assaults and nudity.

The health watchdog found 1,120 sexual incidents involving patients, staff and visitors, about 40% of which it says could be described as sexual assault or harassment.

These include 29 rape allegations, 273 alleged sexual assaults, 298 cases of nudity or exposure and 242 of verbal abuse using sexual words.

Improving safety 

RCN professional lead for mental health Catherine Gamble says the college has written to all UK directors of nursing to draw attention to the report, which supports a new safe staffing campaign the college is planning.

‘The CQC is right to identify lack of trained staff as a factor that leads to unsafe environments,’ she says. ‘Staff and the public know that patients are safer when they have access to sufficient, trained mental health nurses who have regular, consistent clinical supervision.’

CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals Paul Lelliott says the report’s findings have prompted the watchdog to call for new national guidance to improve safety on mental health wards.

‘This report shows that sexual incidents are commonplace on mental health wards and can cause great distress to those affected, distress that may still be felt long after they leave hospital,’ he says.

Training staff to assess risk

‘We are recommending new national guidance co-produced with people who use services, a strengthening of the reporting system so that it better reflects the impact of sexual incidents, and training to equip staff with the skills and knowledge to fully assess patient risk to help prevent incidents.

‘Staff on mental health wards must work together with the police and local authority safeguarding teams to help ensure that people accessing mental health services are kept safe from sexual harm at what is a very vulnerable time in their lives.’

The RCN says it will work with other professional bodies and NHS organisations to produce the new guidance.

The CQC analysis used data from the National Reporting and Learning System, a central database of patient safety incident reports.

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