Hospital security guards have been accused of abusing vulnerable patients after CCTV footage exclusively obtained by Channel 4 News shows an elderly man locked in a room for 11 hours without treatment, food or water.
Stepping Hill Hospital, in Greater Manchester, has admitted unlawful detention and assault and settled out of court after a vulnerable man was “abused” and “falsely imprisoned”.
Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Stepping Hill, told this programme that in the same year there were two other similar incidents and three security guards were dismissed.
They said in a statement: “We took swift action to address those concerns, including informing the police.
“The way the patients were treated was entirely unacceptable. We have sincerely apologised to the patients, and have taken steps to ensure such distressing incidents do not happen again.”
Adult safeguarding expert Margaret Flynn, who led an urgent review into the Winterbourne View abuse scandal in 2011, said it was “shocking” this kind of abuse was happening in acute hospitals and called on the health watchdog to “throw a spotlight on this practice”.
Steven Eddies, who has heart and lung conditions, was taken to the emergency department at Stepping Hill Hospital in 2018.
Mr Eddies was agitated, he complained of chest pains and he was struggling for breath.
CCTV footage of the night, obtained by this programme and Mr Eddies’ lawyers, shows the 67-year-old being pushed into a room by a security guard before the door is then held shut.
He was held against his will in the cubicle without treatment, food or water for 11 hours.
Mr Eddies told Channel 4 News: “Prisoners in jail get better treatment than I got. I was not treated like a human being in any way, shape or form.”
He added: “To this very day I often sit here on my own thinking about the whole issue but then again it’s no good me personally dwelling on it because it’s not going to get anywhere, is it?”
Mr Eddie’s lawyer Mark McGhee said: “Steven was abused. He was falsely imprisoned, he suffered damaging psychiatric harm and he lost his liberty.”
He added: “You’ve got security guards who receive a certain amount of training. Is that sufficient training given the nature of the individuals they are supposed to be protecting?”
Freedom of Information requests, sent by the production company Primate Films, found 4,869 incidents recorded in 23 hospital trusts over the past three years involving “physical interventions” by security staff against patients.
Not all of these patients were vulnerable, according to the FOI responses, and some of the interventions may have been necessary.
However, none of that detail is recorded by the trusts.
Michael, whose name we have changed to protect his identity, worked for a decade as a security guard in hospitals in the south of England. He spent most of his time in A&E.
He began taking notes about the incidents he witnessed after he noticed there was an issue in the way security guards treated patients.
He said: “I’ve seen a child handcuffed to a chair in A&E. I’ve seen patients with blankets wrapped around their legs, tight so that they couldn’t walk away.”
He added: “They were treating, say, a 90-year-old or 80-year-old patient as they would a drunk 25-year-old in a nightclub.”
Government guidelines state that restraint should always be the last resort.
However, Michael told this programme it’s often the go-to course of action, because it’s the easiest.
As a result, he says, patients are coming to unnecessary harm on a daily basis and sometimes they are either too young or mentally unfit to “even realise that they’ve been assaulted”.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “Any abuse of patients should not be tolerated in the NHS and hospitals who manage their security locally are expected to take action where needed to protect their patients and staff.”
Ms Flynn led an urgent review into Winterbourne View, a home for people with learning disabilities, after filming by the BBC’s Panorama programme exposed workers abusing the patients.
Watching CCTV footage of Mr Eddies’ treatment in Stepping Hill, she commented on the “incredible abuse of power” and “the needless use of seclusion”.
She added: “The contrast is that at Winterbourne View, patients were harmed by nurses and nursing assistants. Here, patients are being harmed by security staff.
“It’s shocking that it’s happening not merely in our specialist hospitals and private hospitals, but also happening in our acute hospitals where we least expect it.”
She told this programme that the health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) should “throw a spotlight on this practice”, adding: “If it’s happening here, then of course, it’s likely to be happening elsewhere.”