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Compensation secured for female patient following sexual assault at Essex mental health hospital

A settlement has been secured for a woman who reported she was sexually assaulted by a health care assistant working for the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust in 2018.

Posted on 15 June 2021

The woman, who we have called Jess, had been admitted to the Lakes hospital, Colchester, as she had been suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. She required voluntary inpatient treatment and care for her mental health.

Whilst she was a patient on the ward, Jess reported that a male health care assistant came into her room and touched her inappropriately. The health care assistant kissed and massaged Jess without her consent while she was alone in her room. Jess felt scared and powerless to stop him.

Jess reported the assault immediately to the hospital and the police. She was distressed to learn that the health care assistant continued to work in the hospital later that day, although he was moved to another ward.

The suspect absconded before the conclusion of the police investigation and the police were unable to trace him, the Trust reported. The Trust was due to conduct its own investigation, but Jess was disappointed to learn through the litigation that its investigation was discontinued a few months after the incident without her knowledge.

Jess instructed Leigh Day to bring a civil claim for the assault and the Trust’s own alleged failures to keep her safe and to properly investigate the incident.

The abuse claims team at Leigh Day obtained expert evidence from a Consultant Psychiatrist who diagnosed Jess with an exacerbation of her previous mental health conditions following the assault, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This had affected Jess’ ability to return to work. Jess also reported that the assault and the Trust’s handling of her complaint had made it more difficult for her to trust medical professionals and to seek treatment for her mental health.

The Trust agreed to pay Jess £33,000 in compensation and made a formal apology to Jess for her experiences.

Speaking of her experience Jess said:

“I’m so pleased the claim came to an end. It finally provides me with closure and I feel that I am ready to move on. It was also important to me that the Trust offered a letter of apology.”

Catriona Rubens, a solicitor at Leigh Day who represented Jess, said:

“I am pleased that Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust recognised the seriousness of Jess’s claim by paying her compensation that she can now use to access treatment and begin to move on with her life. As a mental health inpatient, Jess was in a very vulnerable position and was wholly reliant upon the Trust to keep her safe on the ward. Any kind of inappropriate sexual behaviour in this context is a huge breach of trust and, like in Jess’s case, can detrimentally affect a survivor’s ability to trust healthcare professionals in the future. It is imperative that NHS Trusts promptly investigate any complaints of sexual assaults by staff, and that patients are kept fully informed of the investigation and its outcome.”

Cat Rubens
Abuse claims Human rights

Catriona Rubens

Catriona Rubens is a senior associate solicitor in the abuse team.

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Abuse and exploitation claims

Acting on behalf of those who have suffered abuse