This morning, Bob Stewart, the MP for Beckenham, and I met with the Chair and Chief Executive of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, who are responsible for the Bethlem Royal Hospital on Monks Orchard Road which provides a wide range of mental health services, including adult and adolescent secure units for people with severe behavioural and psychiatric problems some of whom are being treated under civil sections of the Mental Health Act and others of whom have been through the criminal justice system.
On 26th February, four young men escaped from the adolescent unit. Three returned voluntarily and one was arrested a couple of days later. Nevertheless, this is the latest in a series of incidents over the years and local residents have understandable concerns about security. Bob and I were looking for some pretty clear assurances from the Trust that lessons would be learnt from this latest failure.
It was a very useful meeting and I will report in detail to the Annual General Meetings of the Monks Orchard and Spring Park Residents Associations but we left partially reassured and with some issues to take up with the Department of Health.
In relation to the adult unit, there have been no escapes from the unit itself since the new River House Unit opened in February 2008. However some patients have absconded when on escorted leave from the unit or failed to return when on unescorted leave (the granting of leave is part of the recovery process and gradually increases over time - initially a patient might not have any leave then as they make progress they would be allowed some escorted leave; if this goes well it would increase over time then progress to unescorted leave until they are finally released back into the community). In March 2010, the Trust introduced a 'Buddi' system whereby patients on escorted or unescorted leave are fitted with a tamper-proof GPS tracking device so that if they abscond or fail to return they can quickly be located. This has led to more than an 80% reduction in the number of patients absconding or failing to return - in the current financial year, not a single patient has absconded.
In relation to the adolescent unit, national guidelines do not require the same level of physical security and the Department of Health won't allow adolescents to be fitted with the GPS devices. Bob and I will be taking both of these issues up. An external investigation has been launched to examine the circumstances surrounding the incident on 26th February and the Trust Board has suspended the adolescent unit until this investigation is complete.