19 July 2010

Care worker “suspended for affair with patient”

I was sitting in the garden at the hospital with some of the patients and I asked if anyone knew where one of the male staff members was, as I’d not seen him since my admission. One of the women I’d become friends with said, “Oh, he has been suspended due to having an affair with a patient who is a friend of mine, and he has now left his wife for her.”

…For the second time

A male patient who has known the staff member very well for some years said, “Yeah, it’s the second time he’s been suspended. At a previous mental health establishment he worked at he was caught doing the same thing, and he’s been out with numerous patients.”

Came on to me when I was sedated – disgust

My blood ran cold. About a year ago I was admitted to the same ward during the night and was very poorly and distressed. A female staff nurse on duty sectioned me until a dcotor arrived and administered intramuscular tranquillizers to calm me down. The male member of staff in question took me downstairs to the garden for a cigarette and sat me down on the bench, put his arm round me and tried comforting me – or that’s what I thought he was trying to do! He asked how things were at home and I confessed that things were difficult between Andrew and I, due to his frustration related to the pressures of my illness.

I mumbled on about the abuse I had suffered and how it was affecting me as an adult, and became quite distressed. The staff member’s arm moved further round and he pulled me close. Although I felt uncomfortable, I had difficulty resisting him due to my sedation. For a second, however, I really thought this cuddle was genuine and that the support worker was just comforting me until he suggested we go out together when I was discharged. I remember feeling horrified but was unable to express my disgust. Despite me being nearly half the man’s age, and being married, he had stepped over the line of being a healthcare professional. I asked to go back up to the ward and went to bed.

Made excuses for his behaviour

The following morning I tried to reflect on the previous night, which included the staff member’s behaviour. Because of my previous experiences (of not being believed, at best, and setting myself up for further abuse, at worst) I put the incident to the back of my mind, and decided simply to steer clear of him. He continued to be tactile when he could, and was with other female patients too, but never explicitly came on to me again, so I put my experience down to the effects of the drugs I’d been given and internally made excuses for his behaviour.

Rescued from his clutches on another occasion

A few months later and a while after I’d been discharged from hospital, I was at work one day and in the A&E department cleaning the stretcher. I felt someone’s arms slide round my waist from behind. I thought nothing of it, as I thought it was just my crew mate messing around as the patient we had dropped off thought we were married. You can imagine my horror when I turned round, laughing, to see it was the support worker who had hit on me during my last admission! Fortunately, my crew mate arrived in the nick of time and rescued me from his clutches. That was the last I saw of him.

To report him or not?

Whilst listening to the patients I battled with myself as to whether I should say something to the ward manager. I felt I owed it to any other vulnerable women who might come into contact with him if he was allowed back to work again. However, my experience of speaking out is that it almost always caused me more problems, and if the new allegations were found not to be true I might be made to look pretty stupid. A part of me felt relieved that this man had abused his position of trust with other women, but only because that made me feel I wasn’t the only one, not because I wanted anyone to come to any harm!

Relieved and proud

I decided to speak out, very tactfully and carefully. I asked to speak to the assistant ward manager in private. I explained to him what I heard and told him that I understood that he was unable to confirm the support worker’s suspension or discuss anything concerning the member of staff. I also explained that I felt compelled to speak out in case the allegations were true . I then briefly told him what I had experienced. The assistant manager was surprisingly supportive, saying that he appreciated me coming forward and understood how difficult it was for me to do so. He explained that the information would form part of an ongoing investigation and at some point in the future I would be asked to give a statement. I felt so relieved and proud that I had maybe helped protect other female patients.

Views and opinions?

This episode just goes to show that abusers still manage to work in such positions of trust. Surely it’s about time the authorities tightened up their screening of applicants wanting to work with vulnerable adults, and then provided training setting out clear boundaries between patients and staff? Nothing seems to have changed since I was a child, apart from the introduction of the CRB check. If anyone has any ideas on how the authorities could improve their screening process I’d be interested to hear your views and opinions!

Love and best wishes

Angela x