Abuse of patients and children is rife, claim mental health campaigners
By Bill Heaney
NHS services for mental health patients are “a throwback to nasty, old colonial times,” a Dumbarton campaigner said this week.
Andrew Muir has been attempting to secure justice for himself and his wife, Claire, pictured right, whom he claims was maltreated in the Christie Unit at Vale of Leven Hospital.
He was scathing in his criticism of the NHS mental health services provided in West Dunbartonshire.
Mr Muir maintains he has been unfairly blocked by officials at every turn.
And that councillors have turned a deaf ear towards him when they have deigned to allow him to speak at a number of their meetings in the past two months.
Mr Muir and his associate Tommy Loudon, of Prestwick, Ayrshire, this week wrote to Fiona Walker of BBC Scotland Investigates congratulating her for bringing mental health issues into the public domain.
They said: “Thank you for a wonderful insight into our Mental Health Services.
“As you now know; they have serious issues [including] restraint [of patients] instead of timely care and empathy.
“And prescribing psychotropic drugs instead of offering psychology.”
They accused the NHS of “brutal section trials to cover up for dissenters and side effects.
And, most bizarrely, the denial of patients’ Human Rights.
The campaigners told the BBC journalist: “Unfortunately our NHS services are a throwback to our nasty old colonial times. And as you exposed; patients are deemed to be “evil psychotic bastards.”
That is why, they added, NHS complaints departments and Scottish Sheriffs “just ignore serious complaints about abuse, drugs damage and corporate manslaughter on the wards.”
Andrew Muir said: “I asked the Ombudsman to review my complaint. They still refuse to investigate. No-one will investigate due to strict time-bars and conflict of interest. The complaints system is totally ineffective.”
While politicians pay frequent lip service to the need to bring long-neglected mental health services into the 21st century, un-investigated abuse is claimed to be rife in the NHS and the Catholic Church in Scotland.
Fiona Walker turned the BBC spotlight on patients who claim to have been previously ignored.
They told her that in one unit they were pinned to the floor in agony and bullied on wards where illegal drugs were rife.
Former patients at one unit in Dundee, a city beset by several NHS scandals despite the fact that until recently one of its MSPs, Shona Robison, pictured left, was Health Secretary in the Scottish Government, claimed staff had used face-down restraint violently and repeatedly over the past five years.
They said the practice was used for prolonged periods and patients were also mocked and shouted at by staff and called for that unit to be closed.
The unit in question is already the subject of an independent inquiry into mental health services, after families of suicide victims campaigned for change.
A Fatal Accident Inquiry report into the death of one patient said there were “serious systemic failures in the care” he received at the unit.
The allegations against the NHS feature in a BBC Scotland documentary, Breaking Point, which is available iPlayer.
The BBC has spoken to 24 people who have been in the unit in the past five years.
Sixteen of them said they saw that illegal drugs were available at the unit.
Eleven patients said they had been unreasonably restrained face-down.
A further seven said they had seen this happening to other patients.
Guidelines say face-down restraint, which can restrict a patient’s breathing, should last no longer than 10 minutes and should only be used as a last resort.
There have been calls for it to be banned because of the risk it can physically harm patients, as well as re-traumatise people who have been victims of violence and abuse.
Former youth worker Adele Douglas was admitted to the unit last year, after experiencing depression and anorexia.
She was on 24-hour suicide watch, and, after a serious attempt to take her own life, staff pinned her to the ground.
Adele said she shouted about being in pain and one member of staff reacted badly.
She said: “At this point I was going absolutely mad, then he’d lifted his hand and slapped me really hard on my thigh.
“When he slapped me he said, ‘That’s enough of that’.
“The guy was really rough with me. It was like he was taking his frustration out on me.”
Adele, who is asthmatic, said she was struggling to breathe and that her knee was badly bruised by the way she was restrained.
She said a nurse later told her she had been held down for 45 minutes to an hour.
She said some of the staff were very professional but that she was pinned down in this way three times during her time in the unit.
Another patient, Marnie Stirling, said she saw patients selling drugs to other patients
She herself was suffering with anxiety and depression, also said she saw illegal drugs on the ward “all the time”.
“It was rife,” she said. “Everyone was offered them. cannabis was the easiest one to get. The restraints felt like punishments.”
Joy Duxbury, professor of mental health at Manchester Metropolitan University, is an expert on how the rules on restraint should be carried out in practice in the wards.
She said patients should not end up with burn marks if restraint was carried out properly – “Rubbing of a face in to a carpet is certainly not an acceptable approach and would never be taught as part of prevention and management of violence and aggression. Once you get a culture like that, it’s very difficult to move it’
Professor Peter Tyrer, who co-wrote the guidelines on how to handle mental health patients, said he was concerned the culture in that unit had become so toxic it should be closed.
“I know that there are various changes going on there but I think once you get a culture like that which has been there for a long time, it’s very difficult to move it.
“What really concerns me is that if this unit persisted, it would represent a continuing scandal in mental health care.”
NHS Tayside, where the unit is situated, said it was concerned by the nature of the allegations and would be conducting an inquiry.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti, pictured right, has been has been accused of orchestrating a “hostile rejection” of claims nuns were involved in the abuse of children in Catholic children’s homes.
The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is currently hearing evidence relating to alleged abuse at four former children’s homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth.
A lawyer for the victims said Archbishop Conti had dismissed the allegations at Nazareth House in Aberdeen while bishop in the city, even allegedly referring to survivors as “the opposition”.
The inquiry also heard the congregation had previously denied there had been volunteers working in its establishments, despite the conviction earlier this year of a man who sexually abused three children at a home in Glasgow in the 1980s while working as a volunteer. The Sisters of Nazareth ran children’s homes in Aberdeen, Cardonald in Glasgow, Lasswade, near Edinburgh, and Kilmarnock in Ayrshire until their closure in the 1980s.
The inquiry, led by Lady Smith, heard police have received 308 complaints about 194 people associated with the institutions over a 50-year period.
Two senior figures from the Order, who are not the subject of abuse allegations, sat in the public gallery as former residents spoke of a catalogue of abuse, including beatings, force-feedings and humiliations administered for wetting the bed.
David Anderson, representing the Bishops’ Conference, said it was clear that not taking matters seriously in the past had been the “wrong thing to do”.
Giving evidence on behalf of the Sisters of Nazareth last year, Sister Anna Maria Doolan admitted children had been abused and said the order was “very sorry”.
The inquiry continues.
I agree with Andrew. His attempts to get justice for his partner Claire has been closed down at every opportunity by the system, who do not want a light shone into the dark corners of our mental health services.
Congratulations to Andrew and Claire Muir for continuing to raise these issues at local and national level. My group’s campaigning has led to a Review of the Mental Health Act, to ask whether it is appropriate to force people with disabilities such as Learning Disabilities and Autism to have `treatment` with psychotropic drugs, simply for being disabled. I do not agree that anyone should be forced to take these drugs, but the current law states that people with Learning Disabilities and Autism can be forced to take these drugs, simply for being themselves.
The problem with documentaries such as this latest one from the BBC is that they do not reveal the important background details, such as:-
The Scottish mental health system does not publish a body count of those dying whilst receiving forced treatment, whether in the community or in a hospital setting – they only published this once, after an FOI by myself.
The Scottish mental health system does not collate any data on the numbers of people who commit suicide whilst receiving forced treatment.
The Scottish mental health system does not collate any data on the numbers or types of restraints used on mental health patients, whether they are being held in a police cell or other place of safety or in a mental hospital.