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BBC Panorama’s Undercover Hospital: urgent change is needed

29 September 2022

This week, BBC Panorama exposed the cruel, dangerous actions of staff at the Edenfield Centre in Prestwich, Greater Manchester.

It is another appalling example of a mental health hospital where people are bullied, abused and repeatedly placed in seclusion.

VoiceAbility Chief Executive Jonathan Senker commented:

The Edenfield centre is the latest in a litany of places at which people who should have been receiving compassionate care instead have been subject to systematic abuse. No one can honestly believe that it will be the last. 

We know that quality advocacy can play a vital role in ensuring that people’s voices are heard, rights are respected, and abuse is identified and stopped. We also know that good advocacy is only one part of the solution. Leadership, cultural change, stronger enforcement and support to rights and protections are needed across health and social care services to end permanently the conditions that allow abuse like this to thrive.

This is why VoiceAbility will continue to call upon the government to act more decisively to demand and lead change. The government must implement the proposed reforms to the Mental Health Act without delay, invest in high quality community provision, drive changes to end the detention of the more than 2000 people with a learning disability or who are autistic and address the risks of further unnecessary hospitalisations. Regulators must act insightfully and incisively when standards are unacceptable.” 

Independent mental health advocacy supports people in hospital to have the rights provided by the Mental Health Act upheld, and ensure their voices are heard. VoiceAbility is committed to empowering our advocates to raise safeguarding concerns whenever they encounter these kinds of discriminatory and organisational abuse, proactively challenging the closed cultures which allow and encourage staff to act abusively.

As well as the direct role VoiceAbility advocates play in safeguarding people in mental health hospitals, we are also using our voice to call for changes to mental health law and practice.

The government has drafted a Mental Health Bill that would reform the outdated Mental Health Act, and introduce a raft of measures that would improve the care and treatment people receive when they experience mental ill health. The Bill would also give people more choice and control over their care and treatment and greater access to advocacy support to help secure their rights and have their voice heard. We continue to call on the government to make mental health law reform a priority.

As well as the legislative change we are calling for, the Building the Right Support Action Plan outlines potential progress towards ending the inappropriate detention of people with learning disabilities and autistic people, but it must deliver proactive, funded, planned and prioritised change to succeed, the priorities of which we set out in our response to its publication in July. 

Delivery of the Action Plan must be a government priority for the new Ministers taking up posts at the Department of Health and Social Care. As part of this, VoiceAbility have set out how a nationally commissioned specialist advocacy service could improve the advocacy support provided to the 2,000 people with a learning disability or autistic people who are held in mental health hospitals and how better and more consistent advocacy support would contribute to reducing the risk of abuse and neglect.