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Sexual assault and rape claims to be part of mental health care review after Sky News investigation

The health secretary says claims of sexual assault and rape will be part of a national review of care on mental health wards, following a Sky News investigation.

This week, Sky and The Independent uncovered 20,000 claims of sexual assault, abuse and harassment over four years since 2019.

Victoria Atkins has now confirmed that the review, announced last year, will take in "patient and staff safety with regard to allegations of sexual assault and rape".

It will be led by the patient care watchdog, the Health Services Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB).

Its terms of reference, she said it would seek to "understand and consider whether the sexual safety of staff and patients within a mental healthcare inpatient setting has been considered and ensured".

This week's investigation found nearly 20,000 sexual safety incidents, involving both patients and staff, across more than 30 NHS England trusts since 2019 and that trusts have largely failed to demonstrate they're applying 2020 government-backed sexual safeguarding protections.

However, the former patient whose case led to the discovery of 20,000 sexual abuse, assault and harassment allegations has described the response as "insufficient".

Alexis Quinn, whose story is told in the new Patient 11 podcast investigation, said: "While I am pleased the uncovering of the appalling sexual violations people, including myself, have endured are to be included within the review, its scope is insufficient.

"It's clear that the safety and integrity of people on mental health inpatient wards is at risk across the country, with significant increases in sexual abuses occurring year on year.

"It is difficult to understand how 20,000 instances of sexual violence are not being taken seriously by the government and I feel our suffering has been largely ignored."

Commenting on the development, Charlie Brooker, honorary professor of criminology and mental health at London's Royal Holloway University, said: "It would be fair to say that the safety standards determined by the Royal College of Psychiatrists are neither being implemented nor reported on.

"In this sense, no mental health trust is 'ensuring' the sexual safety of patients or staff.

"The HSSIB is due to report by the end of 2024, thus conveniently deferring the HSSIB report to the election period and the subsequent administration.

"This is not good enough when we know already how bad the situation is already. More urgent action is required now."

In a statement, NHS England said: "We are taking action to ensure the safety of patients and staff, including rolling out better-reporting mechanisms, training and support as part of the NHS's new sexual safety charter.

"NHS England has advised all trusts and local health systems to appoint a domestic abuse and sexual violence lead to support patients and staff to report incidents and access support, with more than 300 now in place."