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Anger after nurse is strangled by patient in mental health unit


A London mental health unit has been criticised for under-staffing and lack of security after a nurse was strangled by a patient while on duty.

Nurses have alleged that chronic under-staffing and an inadequate alarm system at the City and Hackney Centre for Mental Health leaves them vulnerable to attack.

The claims follow an attack on a nurse earlier this month. The victim survived, but was left with neck injuries and perforated eardrums.

Nursing assistant Yonatan Mosquera told ITV’s London Tonight programme: “We have overcrowding and we have under-staffing. That affects everything else. It affects the quality of service we can provide, it affects our morale, and it is also dangerous.”

The programme reported that teams of just two staff were often left in charge of up to 20 patients, with the wards at times becoming so full that patients have to sleep on sofas. It also said inadequate alarm systems were failing to protect nurses.

UNISON branch chair John Peers said: “We wrote to the trust on three previous occasions saying the cuts to night staffing levels were unacceptable. The wards are very busy and very acute, the dependency levels of the people here are very high.”

UNISON representative Sandra Payne said a previous attack led to pregnant nurse suffering a miscarriage.

A statement from East London NHS Foundation Trust said the incident was being investigated internally.

The statement said: “There will be a full independent enquiry into the incident. In the meantime, a number of actions have been implemented immediately to support staff in the unit and to address concerns.

“Immediately, after the incident, chief executive Dr Robert Dolan met with staff to discuss their concerns. This incident has been taken very seriously and safety measures are being reviewed.”


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Readers' comments (19)

  • As with most things I am totally not suprised by this. It's the same story with a medium secure unit I've worked for. The alarm system has many non-working alarms. And wards are suppose to have 4-5 in a team so you can C&R/PMVA. However they are often left on 2's, and 1's at night. What chance does a nurse or NA have?

    I was once nearly attacked, left on a sex offender ward with a new female nurse. The two of us were locked on the ward with 18 male patients. One was particularly violent, and if it was not for the office door, I feel I would have been worse off. All because they had booked 3 bank NA's who did not turn up for shift.

    Trusts should stop spending the budget on rubbish and staff up like they are suppose to!

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  • Mertha Nyamande RMN

    Mental health services remain volatile in that incidents occur when least expected, despite thorough risk management. Due to the nature of the illnesses/conditions in psychiatry and varied understanding /perspectives, patients' behaviour/presentation remain unpredictable. Having said that, i think it is poor practice to run any secure or general psychiatric ward with less than a PMVA team as a minimum requirement at any given time (day or night). Most cuts are justified by the fact that nearby wards will provide support when needed, which may prove ineffective in an emergency situation. by the time help arrives, it may be too late; jeopardising the safety of both patients and staff. Regrettably, the regulatory bodies do not clarify such issues, leaving interpretation open to each individual trust/service. clear guidance is required on a national level to minimise such and other incidents from recurring.

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  • I wonder how far things have to go before trusts take seriously the high level of staff needed on these types of wards. i work on an assessment ward for elderly patients with mental health and physical illness. We have had many times of only two staff on a night because it is thought the acute medical wards needs are greater, we seem to be the first ward to drop patient staff ration when there is staff shortages elsewhere, they seem to forget we take the patients who have behaviour that is too challenging for the other wards or their mental health support too high for them to be able to provide. They find it difficult to manage one challenging patient yet we have several on our ward plus some patients who are physically very poorly, and not able to make their needs known to cognitive impairment. We have to use agency staff to provide 1:1 care, which is not beneficial to the patients assessment. Only tuesday night did a patient attempt to strangle me, i am very tender arround the area but no external bruising is apparent, i feel so lucky that i was eventually able to break free. Two visitors were hit and we are not provided with alarms because the trust does not appear to recognise the risks .

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  • This attack does not surprise me how about the attacks on staff that are not reported. Also reducing staff at night there is this assumption that everyone is in bed at 10.0 pm not considering someone who is severely unwell and a danger to themselves as well as others do not become well at night and then unwell in the daytime. There is a culture of cutting staff to save money strange it is always the frontline staff not the many unecessary managers/directors

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  • this is yet another example of the NHS being managed by countless 'managers' who have no idea what they are doing and worse couldn't care less. It is long overdue that all the ex-Tesco/other ex commercial 'managers' were sacked (NO tribunals either as they are not doing their jobs) and replaced by healthcare professionals who care about the staff and not endless targets/cost-cutting and any other sychophantic moves to impress others.

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  • Here we go again. Cost cutting measures gripping all nhs service in place of safety. Yes, many other serious attacks have happened on mental health wards unreported and sometimes unrecognised as a serious incident and so brushed under the carpet. Can somebody tell me why mental health services are the first to be affected in any cost cutting measure, given the nature of the service, one would think safety would be considered first.

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  • I tend to think that the Government must be realistic about the situation in the sevice. How could you give £50.00 to someone to do a £100.00 worth of shopping for you and still return some change. The strategic health Authority must make funds available for trusts to provide good service and i also think the legislators should intervene and put a statutory minimum on staff patient ratio. This might force trusts to concur.

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  • Just to clarify; two staff and twenty-four patients on the ward where this incident occurred. The patient has confirmed that the voices were telling him to kill; this member of staff was first...... who knows what could have happened had someone OUTSIDE the building had not heard the cries for help.

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  • I work on an elderly ward for patients with challenging behaviour and numerous other illnesses. we have 15 patients with only two staff members on a night duty when one staff goes on their break it leaves the other staff alone. We have a call system to alert other wards but what if you can't reach it? the other wards have the same staffing levels so how can they leave their clients to come and help? The NHS needs to wake up and stop their staff being left to cope in these situations.

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  • I trained as a psychiatric nurse but would never return into that area of nursing again its way too dangerous.Patients who should be locked up are now walking around the hospital openly abusing and threatening staff.Why are incidents like this not in the daily tabloids highlighting such unsafe conditions that nurses are suppose to work under

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