Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Tuesday, May 11, 1999 Published at 18:48 GMT 19:48 UK


Ashworth: No easy answer

The reforms at Ashworth may not be enough

By BBC Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson

When Health Secretary Frank Dobson decided to keep Ashworth open, he linked his own fate to that of the high-security mental hospital.

Were it to go seriously wrong again, his own position could be untenable.

But despite Mr Dobson's apparent confidence over Ashworth's future, some of those closely involved with the troubled institution do not hold out much hope.

[ image: Frank Dobson: Risking his job]
Frank Dobson: Risking his job
One senior official at Ashworth, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that despite the Fallon report, little at Ashworth had changed.

"There was such a sense of empowerment after the government chose not to close the place down that in some quarters there was a rapid return to old practices. I know of a number of cases where individuals have been put at risk by colleagues," he said.

Prevailing culture

He added that those who challenged the prevailing culture found life hard at Ashworth, and still do.

He recalled how one member of staff found himself isolated after objecting to the "systematic" mistreatment of a patient. In other incidents, people's vehicles were tampered with and children threatened.

Some of those who have left Ashworth are willing to speak openly. Mike Bateson was a principal social worker.

Although he was criticised as part of the hospital's social work team, the Fallon inquiry said he had taken appropriate action to protect a little girl after finding out she was visiting a ward full of paedophiles and child killers.

His experience shows the difficulty reformers face and he does not believe Ashworth can be turned around.

"You have to remember that the people carrying out new policies and procedures are the same people that have been there many years and have got an awful lot invested in Ashworth," he said.

And there lies the challenge. New top managers may be brought in but, until now, all have always been unable to change the underlying culture.

One current staff member said that, after the inquiry, wards were still autonomous fiefdoms doing their own thing where unsafe practices continued.

Short-term future

Yet at one level, reform is being taken onboard. The action plan points to new search procedures for staff and visitors.

[ image: Prisons like Broadmoor should become a thing of the past]
Prisons like Broadmoor should become a thing of the past
New policies to protect children. More investment to recruit more and better staff.

Professor Brian Edwards, a member of the inquiry team that wanted to close the hospital, accepted that in many ways, the government has responded well. But he added, in practice, Ashworth has only been granted a temporary reprieve.

"I am clear where we will end up: With a better service but without three large state high-security hospitals.

"You need a small number of well-ordered high security facilities in the United Kingdom. You don't need Rampton, Broadmoor and Ashworth, " he said.

Authorities at Ashworth have said that everything the inquiry demanded has been done, or is being done. All except one: That the institution should be closed. If Professor Edwards is right, even that could be a matter of time.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

11 May 99 | Health
Action plan for shamed hospital

12 Jan 99 | Health
Shameful top security hospital escapes closure

Internet Links

Department of Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99