Thousands illegally kept in hospitals

Up to 50,000 people could be being kept in hospitals and nursing
homes illegally after a ruling that a man’s detention in hospital
was in breach of his human rights.

The European Court of Human Rights found that a man with autism who
is unable to speak had been illegally detained in a psychiatric
hospital for nearly three months.

The man, known only as HL, was admitted to hospital under common
law as an “informal patient”. A doctor had decided it was not
necessary to detain him compulsorily under the Mental Health Act
1983 as he had not resisted admission. But the court ruled he was
detained rather than admitted under common law and this breached
his human rights.

HL was admitted into Bournewood Hospital in Surrey in July 1997
after he became agitated at a day centre. He was not officially
discharged to his carers until December 1997. In October 1997 his
patient status changed as a result of a legal ruling and he was
admitted to the hospital as an “involuntary patient”.

The court said it was struck by the absence of fixed procedural
rules on the admission of patients not held under the Mental Health
Act but who lacked the capacity to give informed consent to their

A Mind spokesperson said: “Up to 50,000 people in hospital and
nursing homes may be affected because they lack the mental capacity
to give informed consent to their treatment.”

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