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MP urges probe into Ashworth conditions.

Byline: Mark Hookham Daily Post Staff

CALLS were made last night for a Parliamentary inquiry into conditions at Ashworth Hospital.

A Merseyside MP is urging the House of Commons health select committee to launch an investigation into conditions for patients and staff at the Maghull hospital.

Bootle MP, Joe Benton, is representing a group of seven patients who have complained of alleged breaches of human rights, a curtailment of visits and a lack of educational facilities.

Mr Benton has asked the health select committee chairman and Wakefield MP, David Hinchcliffe, to inspect facilities on October 3 and consider launching an inquiry.

Mr Benton said: ``I am worried that visits to patients are being curtailed and I have received complaints from the hospital's education service that their budget is being cut to the extent that human rights are being infringed.

``The balance between punishment and reform is wrong, and both staff and patients are very aggrieved.

``I believe there is often an intrusion of liberty during visits, and patients complain there are always hospital staff within ear shot when they talk to family and friends.''

Liverpool solicitor Peter Edwards represents 150 patients at the hospital who are unhappy with the quality of care.

He said: ``The conditions at Ashworth have not improved for 10 years.

``I have had one client who had to wait for five years for a certain treatment and for that whole time the patient was detained. I also have enormous concern about the restrictive environment for the women patients.''

A spokeswoman for Ashworth Hospital said: ``Mr Benton wrote saying he wants to discuss various general issues of concern about the regime at the hospital.

``Ashworth was surprised, therefore, to learn from the media that Mr Benton is calling for a parliamentary inquiry and that he has articulated what appear to be specific concerns.

``The care of patients involves clinical and therapeutic treatments. For many patients this includes the opportunity to learn new skills, develop existing ones or take part in a range of educational opportunities.

``When Mr Benton visits the hospital, he will be given the opportunity, with his colleague, to learn more about these areas of the hospital.''

Meanwhile, union leaders at the hospital called on any future inquiry to investigate the financial cost of assaults on staff.

Last year the hospital set aside pounds 280,000 for staff injury payments and the Prison Officer's Association estimate one member of staff every month is seriously injured.

A source said: ``We have met David Hinchcliffe this year to press home our concerns on staff safety and the amount of public money spent on injury payments.

``We have asked the Government to carry out an audit on the financial cost of violence on staff in secure psychiatric services.''

An Ashworth spokeswoman said: ``It is no secret that the people sent to us are an immediate danger to themselves and to other people through violence.''
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 13, 2002
Words:486
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