• The CQC has published its report investigating the sexual safety of patients and staff on mental health wards
  • The watchdog is calling for new national guidance and will be working with NHS England, NHS Improvement and a royal college to help define what behaviour is considered sexual harassment or abuse
  • News follows an HSJ investigation which revealed the number of patients and staff being sexually assaulted had risen by a fifth in five years.

The care quality watchdog is calling for national guidance on sexual safety on mental health units following an investigation into more than 1,000 reports of abuse and harassment.

The Care Quality Commission has today published its report into the sexual safety of patients and staff on mental health wards, after launching an enquiry in April.

The watchdog analysed nearly 60,000 incident reports across 54 trusts between April and June 2017, which flagged up 1,120 sexual incidents involving staff, patients and visitors.

An HSJ investigation revealed last week the number of staff and patients reporting being sexually abused by mental health patients has risen by nearly a fifth with more than 3,000 cases over the last five years.

The CQC’s Sexual Safety on Mental Health Wards report flagged up a number of concerns about sexual safety, including:

  • Inpatients not always feeling staff keep them safe from “unwanted sexual behaviour”;
  • Staff not always having the skills to respond to sexual incidents;
  • Wards not always promoting the sexual safety of staff and patients; and
  • Staff under reporting incidents or reports not reflecting the impact on the alleged victim.

The watchdog has set out a series of recommendations to improve sexual safety on mental health wards, including drawing up national guidance on sexual safety coproduced with professionals and patients.

The report said this should include:

  • What behaviour is acceptable and what behaviour would be considered sexual harassment or abuse;
  • How staff should respond to sexual incidents;
  • Recognition of the potential physical and psychological harm caused by those affected by unwanted sexual behaviour; and
  • What support people who experience unwanted sexual incidents can expect from staff.

The CQC said it will be working with regulators and stakeholders, including NHS Improvement, NHS England and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to implement the recommendations. But HSJ understands no timescale has been set.

Its State of Care in Mental Health Services report, published last year, said there were a “substantial number” of services with mixed sex units. This was despite the government ordering NHS providers in 2011-12 to eliminate mixed sex accommodation in almost all circumstances.

CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health Dr Paul Lelliott said that sexual incidents are common on mental health wards, but can cause “great distress” to the people affected.

He added: “Patients and staff must feel confident that any concerns will be followed up quickly and effectively and the appropriate action taken.

“We are recommending new national guidance co-produced with people who use services, a strengthening of the reporting system so that it better reflects the impact of sexual incidents, and training to equip staff with the skills and knowledge to fully assess patient risk to help prevent incidents.”