This week, Sky News and The Independent published the findings of an investigation into the experiences of children and young people who were inpatients at units run by the Huntercombe Group.
The Restraint Reduction Network is saddened by the report, which describes failings over more than a decade at five different inpatient units. The findings detail a lack of therapeutic support for highly vulnerable young people, a culture of gross overuse of restraint and serious safety issues within multiple units, with young people reporting that the environments they were sent to for care and support were themselves traumatising and unsafe.
Mental health services should be therapeutic places of safety, whether in inpatient or community settings, and families of children and young people should be involved in decisions about their care. It is clear that the young people featured in the report did not have safe, therapeutic care and instead were subjected to frightening, unsafe, coercive environments where their rights were violated; where physical, chemical, psychological and mechanical restraint were grossly overused and in which their families felt powerless.
Unfortunately, the toxic cultures described are not unique to the Huntercombe Group’s units, as recent exposes into adult mental health services in Edenfield and Essex Partnership University Trust have shown. We are concerned that, without systemic approaches to culture change, more vulnerable people will be subjected to inappropriate and unacceptable restrictive practices.
It is essential that approaches to reduce reliance on restrictive practices, such as the Six Core Strategies, are embedded across services to promote positive cultures, person centred care and support and reduce the use of restrictive practices.
A whole systems approach incorporating leadership; data collection and analysis; high quality prevention-focussed training; trauma informed preventative strategies; post-incident support and debriefing, and crucially, involving people with lived experience, is needed to challenge and change cultures that rely on unacceptable restrictive practices. A multifaceted approach enables services to embed a person centred, learning culture that is focussed on human-rights. We believe this commitment to culture change must be a priority in all inpatient units, to better protect against and prevent these failings being repeated.
Alexis Quinn, Restraint Reduction Network Manager, said: “The experiences these young people describe are nothing short of barbaric and have no place in our health and social care systems. There should be an urgency to address the structures that allow such power differentials to exist that support abuse of vulnerable people.”