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Mental health inpatient wards are not safe, says research

20 july 2015

People do not feel safe on inpatient wards according to the findings of a new piece of research by NSUN member Hannah McDonald.

Hannah’s investigation into 45 people’s experiences of inpatient wards across the country found that 67% did not feel safe on the ward and 68% had experienced stigma and discrimination from staff members.

Half of the participants reported that their dignity had not been respected. They described a range of disturbing and traumatic experiences - bullying and harassment from others on the ward, a lack of basic care and empathy, forced medication and abusive members of staff:

“I was partly scared of the unpredictability of the other patients, but more so of one staff member who seemed to deliberately wind up some of the most unwell patients until they lashed out and were subsequently restrained”.

“A male member of staff shouted at me, very aggressively, for using my laptop in my room. I hadn't been told this was against the rules, I hadn't been told anything about rules, so I got upset and withdrew, curled up in a corner. When someone noticed a few hours later, they didn't try talking to me. Four or five of the staff came into my room, lifted me bodily onto my bed and insisted I take tablets handed to me without knowing what they were. I found out after discharge that it was lorazepam and I'd spent a day and a half sedated into a stupor”.

“The staff were rarely out of their office and only really came out to make cups of tea or to restrain someone. Only once, after asking repeatedly did a member of staff spend 10 minutes with me. I only wanted to talk to someone!”

Although some staff members on wards were reported to have been helpful and supportive, others reported that the role of staff was primarily to medicate and restrain, rather than to listen and spend time with people. Over half the respondents reported that their experience on the ward had been negative. Participants recommended that staff needed to spend more time talking with and listening to people. They also highlighted a need for single sex wards, better staff training, more activities and talking treatments

The research contributes to a growing body of work that calls for a radical culture shift in relation to inpatient care. People should not lose their humanity, rights and dignity as a result of being admitted to hospital.

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