NHS mental health hospital staff filmed ‘mocking and slapping’ patients

<span>Photograph: Mark Waugh/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Mark Waugh/Alamy

Police are investigating allegations that vulnerable patients were bullied, humiliated and verbally abused by staff at one of the UK’s biggest NHS mental health hospitals.

Staff were apparently filmed mocking, slapping and pinching patients at the Edenfield centre near Manchester during an undercover investigation by BBC Panorama.

The programme Undercover Hospital: Patients at Risk, due to air on Wednesday night, reported that vulnerable adults were inappropriately restrained and held in small seclusion units, designed for short-term isolation, for weeks or months with only brief breaks.

Dr Cleo Van Velsen, a consultant psychiatrist, said the undercover filming showed a “toxic culture” among staff of “corruption, perversion, aggression, hostility, lack of boundaries”.

Greater Manchester police (GMP) said it had launched an investigation and was reviewing the Panorama footage to identify any offenders.

It was reported that the allegations involve 40 patients and 25 staff, more than a dozen of whom have been suspended.

Greater Manchester mental health NHS foundation trust, which runs the Edenfield centre, said it was taking the allegations “very seriously” and had taken “immediate actions to protect patient safety”.

Michaela Kerr, the head of GMP’s public protection department, said: “It goes without saying that these allegations are concerning. Since they were brought to our attention, we have been working with partner agencies to ensure the safeguarding of vulnerable individuals.

“We’ve also obtained the information required to open criminal investigations, and inquiries are ongoing to ensure all offences are recorded and those involved identified.”

Staff were filmed using demeaning language when talking to patients about their bodies. This was often passed off as a joke, but patients said they felt bullied and dehumanised.

A 22-year-old patient, who had in the past stopped eating and drinking because she believed she was overweight, said staff had called her “fat” before claiming they had been joking.

Footage shows a nurse apparently refusing to check on her after she had tried to kill herself, while staff members laughed and joked: “[She’s] only crying”, and “if she slit her throat you’d know it” because “she’d tell everybody about it”.

A female support worker was filmed humiliating another patient for having to be supervised by her while going to the toilet.

On another occasion the patient sat on the lap of the same support worker, who said: “If you fart I will actually kill you.” The support worker then pulled aside the patient’s clothing and repeatedly slapped her bare skin. A senior nurse, who was among those watching, laughed and jeered as the patient was slapped.

Dr Van Velsen, a consultant psychiatrist, said the members of staff acted “like a gang, not a group of healthcare professionals”.

“It’s against any policy I’ve ever seen about restraint in doing this,” she said.

The trust said: “We are working closely with local and national partners including NHS England, the Care Quality Commission and Greater Manchester police to ensure the safety of these services. We will cooperate fully with all investigations.

“We owe it to our patients, their families and carers, the public and our staff that these allegations are fully investigated to ensure we provide the best care, every day, for all the communities we serve.”