Woman receives compensation for sexual assault at mental health unit

A female mental health patient has secured more than £30,000 in compensation following a sexual assault at a mental health hospital in Essex.

The woman – who for this article will be referred to as Jess – had been receiving treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts at The Lakes Mental Health Hospital, Colchester, in 2018 when a male health care assistant came into her room and touched her inappropriately.

The health care assistant kissed and massaged Jess without her consent while she was alone in her room, leaving her scared and powerless to stop him.

Jess reported the assault immediately to the hospital operated by Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) and the police.

She was distressed to learn that the health care assistant continued to work in the hospital later that day, although he was moved to another ward.

The suspect absconded before the conclusion of police investigation and police were unable to trace him, the Trust reported.

The trust was due to conduct its own investigation, but Jess then learnt through the litigation that its investigation was discontinued a few months after the incident without her knowledge.

Jess instructed Leigh Day to bring a civil claim for the assault and the trust’s own alleged failures to keep her safe and to properly investigate the incident.

The abuse claims team at Leigh Day obtained expert evidence from a consultant psychiatrist who diagnosed Jess with an exacerbation of her previous mental health conditions following the assault, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

This had affected Jess’ ability to return to work. Jess also reported that the assault and the trust’s handling of her complaint had made it more difficult for her to trust medical professionals and to seek treatment for her mental health.

The trust agreed to pay £33,000 in compensation and made a formal apology to Jess for her experiences.

Speaking of her experience, Jess said: “I’m so pleased the claim came to an end. It finally provides me with closure and I feel that I am ready to move on.

“It was also important to me that the trust offered a letter of apology.”

Catriona Rubens, a solicitor at Leigh Day who represented Jess, said: “I am pleased that Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust recognised the seriousness of Jess’s claim by paying her compensation that she can now use to access treatment and begin to move on with her life.

“As a mental health inpatient, Jess was in a very vulnerable position and was wholly reliant upon the Trust to keep her safe on the ward.

“Any kind of inappropriate sexual behaviour in this context is a huge breach of trust and, like in Jess’s case, can detrimentally affect a survivor’s ability to trust healthcare professionals in the future.

“It is imperative that NHS trusts promptly investigate any complaints of sexual assaults by staff, and that patients are kept fully informed of the investigation and its outcome.”

A spokesperson for the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust said: “We offer our sincere apologies for the distress experienced and are pleased to have come to an agreed settlement which we hope will help towards the recovery process.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter