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Pinned down, force-fed and drugged into ‘zombie-like’ state: ‘Systemic abuse’ at children’s hospitals revealed

Children say they were "treated like animals" and left traumatised as part of a decade of “systemic abuse” by a group of mental health hospitals, an investigation by The Independent and Sky News has found.

The Department of Health and Social Care has now launched a probe into the allegations of 22 young women who were patients in units run by The Huntercombe Group, which has run at least six children’s mental health hospitals, between 2012 and this year.

They say they suffered treatment including the use of “painful” restraints and being held down for hours by male nurses, being stopped from going outside for months and living in wards with blood-stained walls. They also allege they were given so much medication they had become “zombies” and were force-fed.

But despite reports to police and regulators dating back seven years, and findings by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) that the units were inadequate, the NHS has still handed Huntercombe nearly £190m since 2015-16 to admit children to its mental health beds.

Through witness testimony, documents obtained by Freedom of Information request and leaked reports, the investigation has uncovered:

  • The CQC has received more than 700 whistleblowing and safeguarding reports, including “incidents of concern” and several “sexual safety” concerns.
  • NHS England was notified of 195 safeguarding reports between 2020 and 2021.
  • A 2018 internal report at Meadow Lodge hospital in Newton Abbot (now closed) found staff members using sexually inappropriate language in front of patients.
  • 160 reports investigated by Staffordshire police about Huntercombe Staffordshire between 2015 and 2022.
  • Between March 2021 and 2022, the CQC gave permission for 29 patients to be admitted to Maidenhead hospital after it was placed in special measures.

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Source: The Independent, 27 October 2022


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