Commission head ‘shocked’ by abuse of rights

Abuses of patient rights in psychiatric hospitals take place
“all the time across the country in one way or another,” the Mental
Health Act Commission has claimed.

Chris Heginbotham, chief executive of the MHAC, said: “Some of the
things we find are really quite shocking.”

Commissioners employed by the MHAC to monitor services regularly
uncover practices at hospitals that are “totally inexcusable,”
Heginbotham told delegates at Mind’s annual conference last

Among the cases the commission had come across was a patient who
had been detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983 a
dozen times. But under the act, section 2, which allows a person to
be detained for up to 28 days, cannot be renewed. The misuse of
this section meant that the patient had been detained unlawfully
for eight months.

Another case involved a person with learning difficulties who was
detained informally and was left in a room for two days before he
was assessed.

Heginbotham said cases like these were “just the tip of the

“Often these things are put right quite quickly [when they are
highlighted] but that’s not the point. They show a lack of basic
procedures apart from anything else. It is appalling that we have
had the Mental Health Act for 22 years and some providers are not
following the basic procedures,” he added.

He went on to say that “on paper” service users’ rights had
improved over the past 20 years, with the introduction of
legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998, but in practice they
were still “neither sufficient nor robust”.

Heginbotham was very concerned at the number of deaths in which
physical restraint was a factor: “Surely the fundamental right is
the right to life. It is a sad fact that one person has died every
year for the past 15 years as a result of physical

Guidelines published by the National Institute for Clinical
Excellence last month on physical restraint provoked outrage
because they failed to introduce a three-minute time limit for use,
leaving some experts warning of more such deaths in future.

A key recommendation of the inquiry report into the death of David
Bennett, who died in 1998 after being restrained face down for 25
minutes, was a three-minute limit.

  • The Mental Health Act Commission will merge with the Healthcare
    Commission in 2007.

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