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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 01:43 GMT
Doctor attacks 'dreadful' hospital
ward vista
Former patients say psychiatric wards are "bleak"
Squalid and drug-ridden facilities have prompted a senior psychiatrist to launch an astonishing attack on his own hospital.

Consultant Dr Mark Salter told BBC News Online that his ward at Homerton Hospital in Hackney, east London, was cramped, understaffed and dirty.

If you are on crack cocaine in this hospital, you go to the east wing stairway and wait for the dealer to come along

Dr Mark Salter, Homerton Hospital, Hackney
He also said his patients had easy access to hard drugs in the hospital.

Dr Salter's outburst came as a national survey conducted by mental health charity Mind revealed that many patients regarded NHS psychiatric wards as "bleak", "depressing" and "un-therapeutic".

A third of the 343 former patients surveyed said illegal drugs had been used on their wards, and two-thirds of these said drugs had been easily available.

More than half said they had not had enough contact with staff, and 45% said they had not been able to get enough food.

Dr Salter, a psychiatrist for 15 years, said the UK's mental health services were "bumping along the bottom" after many decades of under-investment.

Despite Homerton being a brand new facility, he said, patients regularly had to sleep on the floor because there were not enough beds.

"At the moment we have 19 patients and 16 beds," he said.

"The atmosphere in the wards is dreadful - we have three or four nurses if you are lucky, and 16 psychotically disorganised and distressed patients.

"We have patients who will smear their faeces on the floor - but it takes months to get the carpet replaced. It all comes down to money.

Assaults on staff

"We have a society that doesn't give a damn about mental health."

The hospital staff were "doing a fantastic job" under enormous pressure, he said, with assaults on them currently running at between five and 10 a week.

The Mind survey results on illegal drugs rang true with him - marijuana was easily available, as was crack cocaine, he said.

He said: "If you are on crack cocaine in this hospital, you go to the east wing stairway and wait for the dealer to come along.

"I think he comes on Wednesdays."

Mind is calling for more monitoring of mental health wards, and improvement targets to be set for ward environments as well as clinical issues.

Its chief executive, Judi Clements, said: "We need major improvements if we're to have wards suitable for the 21st century.

"Hospitals will always be an essential part of modern psychiatric services, so it is vital that we have wards that are safe and supportive."

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27 Dec 99 | Health
A&E and the mentally ill
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