Ministers urged to launch investigation into inpatient mental health services after allegations of 'systemic abuse'

Exclusive: Developments come after The Independent revealed allegations by 22 patients of 'systemic abuse' inside a children's mental health hospital.

Ministers have been urged to launch a public investigation into the treatment of mental health patients after The Independent revealed allegations that patients had suffered "systemic abuse" in inpatient units.

A joint investigation with Sky News found that teenagers at a facility run by The Huntercombe Group had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder by their treatment despite hundreds of warnings alerted by regulators and the NHS.

Now the government is facing calls to review all mental health care services over concerns that these cases are the "tip of the iceberg". mental health services, while Deborah Coles, chief executive of charity Inquest, has asked new health secretary Steve Barclay to launch a public investigation under the law.

This week The Independent reported allegations by 22 patients of "systemic abuse" inside a children's mental health hospital run by The Huntercombe Group, which has run at least six children's mental health hospitals, between 2012 and 2022. Social Care said it had launched an investigation into the allegations made by the 22 young women. However, when asked by The Independent, there were no specific details of the investigation. After the announcement of the investigation, more patients came in with accusations of poor care.

Coles said: “The surprising and surprising thing about the investigation is the fact that all these warnings were not heard [and] did not trigger that response. This is a truly horrific example of a systemic problem, and sadly, the tip of the iceberg.

“I think this requires a much broader public investigation to ensure we truly uncover, once and for all, what is going on behind the closed doors of these institutions. They act with almost impunity, and they are not subject to that rigorous monitoring and inspection.”

He added: "Instead of seeing this as isolated, having isolated reviews or questions, we need to have a statutory public investigation into mental health services, deaths and serious harm that occurs in these places."

The Center for Mental Health has called for "reform" of the mental health care system, which it says "creates conditions for abuse and ill-treatment to occur in inpatient mental health services".

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive at the charity, said: “Inpatient mental health services should be a safe, respectful and loving place for people of all ages when they are least well. Unfortunately that's not always the case. We need to reform the systems that create conditions for abuse and ill-treatment in inpatient mental health services.

“The government must continue to fund the improvement of mental health services at a time when the need increases amid the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. It should modernize the Mental Health Act to ensure coercion is used as little and as fairly as possible. And the NHS locally must ensure that the services it pays for are safe and effective, and that no one is left too long in a hospital or nursing home due to a lack of proper support to go home."

In a letter to the new health secretary, shared with The Independent and Sky News, Dr Allin-Khan said: “As I am sure you will agree, Sky News and the Independent yesterday reported on the care of young women in inpatient units run by The Group. Huntercombe is pathetic.

“Patients, and their families, rightly hope to be safe in inpatient settings. It is very sad to hear of the excessive use of restraints and the conditions in which the patient is being treated. With patients suffering from PTSD as a result of their treatment, the long-term impact of their experience cannot be ignored."

He said the investigation was "alarmingly" coming weeks after exposure by Panorama, which highlighted abuses at the Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust, and Dispatches' report of the failure at the Essex mental health hospital.

Dr Allin-Khan has written to former health secretary Therese Coffey twice since late September about the matter, but has received no response.

In his letter, he asked the government to outline whether to conduct a rapid review of inpatient mental health services, writing: “There is clearly a staff shortage in inpatient settings, with thousands of mental health vacancies across the country – can you explain what the government is doing to address this? this matter? There are also very clear concerns about the complaints reporting mechanism – can you elaborate on what the government is doing to ensure that patient complaints about their care are taken seriously?”

He told The Independent: “The failure of governments to learn from past failures, and implement recommendations to reduce restraint, segregation and isolation, costs people's lives and traumatizes too many patients, as evidenced in this report. They need to do a quick review of mental health inpatient services now.

“Tory chaos over the summer meant that the government was not involved with allegations of abuse in inpatient settings – for weeks there had been no functioning mental health minister. Labor has prevention plans for mental health, ensuring that everyone can access the mental health care they need within four weeks, and for children and youth to access mental health support in schools and open access centers in their communities.”

Active Care Group took over the remaining Huntercombe hospital in December 2021. Responding to The Independent's investigation, Dr Sylvia Tang, chief executive of Active Care Group, said most of the alleged incidents occurred before the group took ownership.

He added: “However, we are deeply saddened and concerned to hear about this patient's experience, as the well-being, health and safety of our patients has always been, and continues to be, our top priority. Our clinical team is led by qualified and compassionate professionals.”

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