There is an inconvenient truth about mental health services that The Times struck upon today with the headline “NHS abuse of mental patients ‘endemic’”, it follows what appears to be an FOI request about serious incidents, suicides, information leaks and patient abuse. The independent followed the story up with “Abuse of mentally ill patients by NHS staff ‘jumps by 88% in two years” .
Relief is the word I used when I read The Times article, relief because a mainstream media organisation has picked these concerns up and thrust them into the public’s limelight. Unfortunately, the headline wasn’t exactly the best, describing vulnerable people as “mental patients” distracted people from the substantive issue and understandably the term “mental patients” itself can be seen as stigmatising language.
Now usually, I am very vocal about how people use language around mental health, particularly the media because the language around mental health is essential in framing the public discourse. I have written numerous letters to media organisations when they use language that could be stigmatising but I let this one slide. Why? Because the issue that was raised is so important and one that needs to be talked about more.
To me it’s an issue that is a national scandal, one that is under-reported and generally swept under the carpet. I have witnessed it first hand, both as an inpatient myself, visitor and politician. People being shouted at, verbally abused, subjected to unnecessary and excessive restraints. I have unfortunately also been exposed to situations where people have come to significant harm and death because of abuse from mental health services. I have also had constituents come forward with serious allegations about sexual and physical abuse from staff in mental health services.
I have witnessed what happens when the system is confronted with these allegations, it goes in on itself, it protects itself at all costs. I have sat with families who have been driven to physical exhaustion fighting to get some justice for their loved ones who have been victim of systemic abuse by mental health services.
Often when people are victims of abuse from mental health services, they have nowhere to turn to. Lawyers often will not get involved because the cases are highly complex and often people don’t have the resources to finance lawyers independently, the police tend to shy away, safeguarding departments are not interested, and most importantly mental health services do everything they can to protect themselves. This protection in some cases goes to criminal levels, I personally have had complete lies written about me in my patient records so if I were to challenge anything what leg would I have to stand on?
It is heart-breaking to continue hearing these stories, because from my perspective absolutely nothing is being done to address the fundamental causes of this abuse from mental health services. Services are still chronically underfunded, staff are overstretched and underpaid, and the regulatory bodies that exist to uphold patient rights are ineffective.
I am not saying that all mental health services are abusive, there are some extremely good mental health services in the country that are staffed with incredibly passionate and dedicated staff. What I am saying is that there is a huge and systemic problem where patients are becoming victims of abuse and not only are these patients getting next to no justice, but the system does not appear to be doing anything to fix the problem.
To me there needs to be a public inquiry into the abuse of mental health patients, a public inquiry that can look at the systemic failings and start to bring about real change. People who have been victims of abuse by mental health services often do not get justice, the system fails them. We as a society need to do more to address this inconvenient truth that some mental health services in this country are abusing their patients to the point of death.