MHAC finds failure to protect dignity and safety of detained women

The Mental Health Act Commission warned today that women detained in hospital under mental health legislation are having their privacy, dignity and safety compromised in some services.

In a report published a week before the watchdog’s merger into the Care Quality Commission, MHAC said the most significant issue reported by female patients was feeling unsafe, which it said related to the continued use of mixed-sex accommodation.

The study, informed by the MHAC’s visits of more than 2,000 wards and 6,000 patients in 2007-8, said women often felt that as well as feeling fearful of physical and sexual violence, women complained of sexual harassment, verbal intimidation and the use of inappropriate language.

Dignity and privacy failings

The MHAC also found a “too frequent failure to protect or promote privacy and dignity” for women, which the report said exacerbated feelings of insecurity.

The revised Mental Health Code of Practice for England said all sleeping areas must be segregated by gender, while separate male and female-only toilets and day rooms must be provided.


The MHAC found that while there was “consistent evidence” to show mental health trusts were providing women only lounges, there were many reports of how these lounges were used for other purposes, such as ward reviews, which the watchdog said was “inadequate”.

The MHAC’s acting chief executive, Gemma Pearce, said: “Many services are providing very good care which is sensitive to issues of privacy and dignity, and ensures and promotes the safety of women (and men) at a time of vulnerability. But we also found services which are not meeting the particular needs of women, including basic assurances of their rights to safety, privacy and dignity.”

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