A major joint investigation conducted by The Independent and Sky News has uncovered a “national scandal,” wherein mental health patients across the country have been subject to relentless sexual assault and rape. The investigation, which was released on Monday 29 January 2024, has found that almost 20,000 reports of sexual incidents in the last five years have been made in more than half of National Health Service (NHS) mental health trusts.
It’s been reported that NHS trusts are failing to report the majority of these incidents to the police, thereby upholding a cycle of fear and lack of trust for patients who may fall victim to an attack.
Some of the investigation’s key findings included: just 982 (less than 5 per cent) of sexual incidents reported to hospitals were referred to the police over the same period, there were 800 allegations of rape and serious assaults on women, and just six out of 50 hospitals were able to prove they were meeting NHS standards aimed at protecting patients from sexual harm.
Dr Lade Smith, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, spoke with The Independent and called the findings “horrendous,” adding: “There is no place for sexual violence in society, which has a profound and long-lasting negative impact on people’s lives. Today’s horrendous findings show that there is still much to do to make sure that patients and staff in mental health trusts are protected from sexual harm at all times.”
Much of this came to light following a Sky News podcast titled Patient 11 which followed the story of Alexis Quinn, a former British youth swimmer who shared her story of escaping psychiatric care after experiencing prolonged sexual intimidation and incidents of assault from male patients. In both instances, neither of Quinn’s attackers faced criminal action.
According to Quinn’s testimony—which revealed she was placed in psychiatric care after the death of her brother and with undiagnosed autism—she first complained of a sexual assault by a male patient at Kent’s Littlebrook hospital on Christmas Day in 2013 after she was placed on an all-male ward. Following this, the trust committed Quinn to safeguarding and apologised for wrongly placing her in that ward.
However, just months later in 2014, Quinn complained once more after she was moved to yet another mixed-gender care setting—a place where she once again was subject to sexual harassment from male patients.
Kent and Medway NHS Trust later told Sky News it has eradicated the mixed wards: “We continue to offer our sincerest apologies to Alexis [Quinn] for the unacceptable behaviour she experienced when she was in our care.”
This isn’t the first time the NHS has been criticised for not being vigilant enough when it comes to this matter. For example, in September 2023, a number of senior medical professionals implored the NHS to take action in regard to female staff members facing misogyny, bullying, and explicit sexual intimidation and harassment.
In response to the recent joint investigation, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting stated that it was “chilling” that these “horrific” alleged crimes were reported to have taken place in the NHS.
The politician continued: “Very serious questions must urgently be asked of hospital leaders, who have to explain why the vast majority of these incidents were kept from the police. NHS England must explain why so few trusts have implemented sexual safeguarding protections designed to keep patients safe. The government must treat this investigation as a wake-up call and act against the soaring number of mixed-sex wards in the NHS today.”