Savile scandal sparks calls for improved monitoring of mental health patient safety

Campaigners call on Department of Health to reverse decision to scrap survey that monitored safety of patients on mental health wards in light of Jimmy Savile allegations.

Image: Alex Maguire/Rex features

Mental health campaigners are calling on the government to reinstate a survey used to monitor patient safety on mental health wards in the wake of allegations that Jimmy Savile sexually assaulted patients at a secure psychiatric hospital while working as a volunteer.

Police are investigating claims about Savile’s conduct while working at Broadmoor hospital. Campaigners at Rethink Mental Illness said the allegations showed the need for the Department of Health (DH) to reverse a decision to scrap the mental health acute inpatient services survey. According to Rethink, the research was the “only survey” to gauge the safety of mental health patients before it was discontinued three years ago.

The research, conducted by the Care Quality Commission on behalf of the Department of Health, was last published in 2009. The study revealed that less than half of patients (45 per cent) said that they “always” felt safe in hospital.  

The DH told Community Care the study was “discontinued because of fundamental methodological issues” with its design. It said that the NHS outcomes framework prioritises patient safety and the indicators apply to all NHS providers, including mental health services.

But campaigners said the mental health acute inpatient survey should be reinstated as “serious concerns about safety within mental health units” remain.

Jane Harris, associate director of Rethink, said: “The Jimmy Savile allegations have highlighted how important it is to protect vulnerable people on mental health wards from abuse. Yet government has in fact dropped the only survey that told us how safe people felt in mental health hospitals.”

Harris added: “The Care Quality Commission checks how safe people with physical illnesses feel when they are in hospital, so why not extend the same regard to the safety of thousands of people getting mental health treatment? We are calling on Jeremy Hunt to immediately reinstate this important survey to help safeguard vulnerable people from abuse.”

A DH spokesperson said: “The mental health inpatient survey was discontinued because of fundamental methodological issues – sample sizes were too small and the very low response rates made it difficult to take any meaningful or reliable data.”

“We agree that patient feedback is vital to informing and improving services, and all providers of NHS funded care are required to conduct formal surveys for those who use them, carers and staff. Commissioners of these services can also request additional surveys, where they are appropriate. Safeguaring vulnerable people and providing safe, modern effective mental health services remains a government priority,” the spokesperson added. 

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