Published: 20/06/2002, Volume II2, No.5810 Page 8

Off-duty police officers have been deployed at a Carlisle psychiatric hospital ward just four months after patients staged a violent disturbance.

Managers at the city's Carleton Clinic psychiatric hospital - part of North Cumbria Mental Health and Learning Disabilities trust - have confirmed that at least two officers were paid to work alongside nurses at the troubled Rowanwood ward for almost a week earlier this month.

They were drafted in after the hospital admitted a particularly disturbed patient, because no suitable bed could be found in a medium-secure unit. At times the patient was handcuffed by the officers so that nurses could administer medication.

Unison claims that the move - said to be unprecedented - is a symptom of a 'hospital in crisis', with patients being admitted inappropriately and staff left exhausted from overwork.

Two off-duty officers were regularly working shifts at the ward until the patient, who is considered a particular threat to women, was transferred to a secure unit in the south of England.

A Unison spokesperson said staff felt 'increasingly frustrated'.

'It is a queer state of affairs when we have to fetch in off-duty police officers to help staff psychiatric units. I've never known this happen anywhere else in the health service.'

Trust chief executive Nigel Woodcock said the patient was admitted because there was no suitable bed available in a medium-secure unit anywhere else in the country.

'We looked all over the North, and right across most of the country. There was nowhere else to move him to. We took the decision that we had to be responsible and look after him, and because of his needs we asked Cumbria constabulary to provide interim support to staff on Rowanwood until more appropriate facilities could be found.

'We have to make sure the interests of staff and patients are looked after in terms of safety.'

In February, 15 police officers were called in to the same ward of the unit to rescue nurses after patients became violent.