Mental health patients not kept safe from ‘unwanted sexual behaviour’

The CQC discovered there were a total of 1,120 sexual incidents involving staff, patients and visitors.

11 September 2018
patient and the hospital

The Care Quality Commission has published a report into the sexual safety of mental health wards.

Following concerns raised on an inspection of a mental health trust, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has today released a report on the sexual safety of mental health wards.


After analysing nearly 60,000 incident reports across 54 trusts between April and June 2017 the CQC flagged up a total of 1,120 sexual incidents involving staff, patients and visitors.

People do not always feel safe.

The CQC’s report flagged up a number of concerns about sexual safety, including:

  • People who use mental health services do not always feel that they are kept safe from unwanted sexual behaviour.
  • Ward environments do not always promote the sexual safety of people using the service.
  • Staff do not have the skills to promote sexual safety or to respond appropriately to incidents
  • Managers do not always know what is good practice in promoting the sexual safety of people using the service and of their staff.
  • Staff may under-report incidents and reports may not reflect the true impact on the person who is affected.

The healthcare regulator has set out a series of recommendations to improve the sexual safety of patients which include the creation of new national guidelines and training for staff.

Everyone must feel safe.

Catherine Gamble, RCN Professional Lead for Mental Health, said: “It is of great concern that the CQC’s report describes sexual incidents on mental health wards as ‘commonplace’.  It’s vital that everyone, both patients and staff, can feel safe in mental health settings.  The CQC is right to identify lack of trained staff as a factor that leads to unsafe environments – staff and the public know that patients are safer when they have access to sufficient, trained mental health nurses who have regular, consistent clinical supervision.  That is why the RCN is campaigning for safe staffing levels throughout the health and care system.  In addition, as the CQC points out, many patients are being cared for in outdated, unsuitable buildings that are simply not appropriate for the 21st century.


“The RCN has today written to all Directors of Nursing to draw this important report to their attention.  We look forward to working in partnership with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, NHS Improvement and NHS England to produce joint guidance on sexual safety on mental health wards, and have asked Directors of Nursing today to take that work forward with us”.

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