Force stretched at Stevenage mental health unit

ON a daily basis valuable police resources are used to search for patients who have gone missing from an acute mental health inpatient unit in Stevenage, claims a police officer. The Stevenage officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he is appalled a

ON a daily basis valuable police resources are used to search for patients who have gone missing from an acute mental health inpatient unit in Stevenage, claims a police officer.

The Stevenage officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he is appalled at the lack of security at the mental health unit on the Lister Hospital site.

He has decided to speak out after 19-year-old Rebecca Marshall, of Fuller's Court in Letchworth GC, absconded from the unit last month and was found dead in a field off The Brambles in Stevenage two weeks later.

"We are called there daily," he said. "Patients are always found, but it takes up a lot of resources when you think five intervention officers work in Stevenage. We can't give the public the service they need if three of us are looking for a missing person and we only have two PCs working in the town."


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Herts Police has confirmed that on average about one patient a week is reported missing from the unit, and some searches can be "time consuming".

The outraged officer said the unit has pin code access, but that the code is written on the door. "They're not grasping the fact that if you leave the code on the door, people will get out," he fumed.

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"I know the police are looking into the amount of time we spend down there," he added.

Acting Chief Inspector for Stevenage, Richard Liversidge, said: "The officer isn't aware of the hard work being carried out behind the scenes to overcome day-to-day operational issues associated with the open unit at Lister Hospital."

He said police are notified when a patient is missing from the unit, and officers work to locate them. "Enquiries such as these take place on average three to four times a month," he said. "Whilst these can on some occasions be time consuming, the constabulary has a duty to respond and will always respond to public concerns related to vulnerable missing people.

"We have been in contact with the unit to discuss previous issues about patient wellbeing, and will continue to do so."

A spokesman for Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the unit, said: "Many of the patients are voluntarily receiving treatment, and are not detained under the Mental Health Act against their will. They are free to exercise their rights to come and go from the ward as part of their individual care plan. Gradual reintroduction to social interaction outside the hospital environment may form part of their recovery plan.

"However some of the ward's patients are detained under the Mental Health Act for their own safety and their ability to leave may be restricted. Their needs are carefully assessed, and a care plan is devised when they come on to the ward. Their care may require for them to be closely supervised or restricted in their movements depending on their specific circumstances.

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