No priority for mental health patients

A person detained under the Mental Health Act does not have a
higher priority for treatment than a person who is a voluntary
patient, even if a responsible medical officer recommended the
detained person’s treatment.

That was the decision in the administrative court, in the case
of R v Oxfordshire Mental Healthcare NHS Trust & Oxfordshire
NHS Health Authority ex parte F. The case was dealt with by Mr
Justice Sullivan who was treated to the sight of doctors
disagreeing about treatment, location, which authority pays and
also had to decide whether a voluntary patient has different rights
to a detained patient.

The facts were quite simple. Miss F had been convicted of
manslaughter in 1992. The events had taken place in Oxfordshire.
Her parents moved to Blackpool in 1998. Miss F and her psychiatrist
(Responsible Medical Officer (RMO) under the Mental Health Act
1983, Dr Orr) took the view that she was nearly ready for transfer
from Broadmoor to a less secure unit, initially on trial leave,
preferably to a medium secure unit in the north west for eventual
return to that area, which would be nearer to her parents’ home. It
would have the advantage of not being near Oxford where the death
took place.

Oxfordshire Mental Healthcare NHS Trust & Oxfordshire NHS
Health Authority have a Priorities Forum which deals with referrals
from Dr Rose, their Consultant Psychiatrist who evaluates cases for
referral out of their area (as in this case). Dr Rose wrote to Dr
Orr saying that he was extremely sympathetic but that the referral
out of area would cost approximately £200,000 over a two-year
period and the trusts simply did not have that kind of money. He
listed five reasons why he could not support Miss F’s request:

1. High quality care was available locally. Indeed a local
psychiatrist (Dr Bullard) had been involved with Miss F for over
nine years already. Continuity of care could be guaranteed.

2. The nature of the offence did not warrant moving away from

3. There was disagreement between the medical practitioners
about whether rehabilitation should be attempted even with the
parents being near.

4. The patient will need a long time in medium care.

5. The cost of sending the patient to Manchester was not
justified at this stage given the uncertainty about the
questionable benefits.

After much deliberation, after reconsidering the question when
requested to do by solicitors for Miss F, those issues were the
ones which were the subject of Judicial Review Proceedings
commenced on 1 March 2001. Dr Orr said that there were four good
reasons why Miss F should go to Manchester, not Oxford:

1. The unusual nature and high profile of the offence would make
rehabilitation difficult in Oxford.

2. Miss F’s memories of Oxford were all negative. Rehabilitation
would be harder there than Manchester.

3. Family work would be easier if her parents were near

4. She had no network of support in Oxford.

Dr Bullard disagreed with Dr Orr. Miss F’s barrister went into
great detail about Dr Orr’s responsibilities as RMO saying that her
views as the psychiatrist treating Miss F should be given
precedence over those who were not treating her. Mr Justice
Sullivan considered the matter in very great detail but his
starting point was very clear – “Treatment is provided to all
patients in the real world where the availability of facilities is
constrained by resources”. He went on to say “that since resources
are limited, there is bound to be a queue of patients seeking
treatment. I do not accept the proposition that the RMO’s position
under the 1983 Act is to propel his or her Part II or Part III
patients to the head of the queue.” He decided that it is for the
health authority to decide (subject to Wednesbury review) what
weight to give to the RMO’s clinical judgement in any particular

The judge concluded that the health authority had acted fairly.
He concluded with this stark warning “Decisions on funding affect
lives, not just liberty. That is not a good reason to judicialise
them. They are agonisingly difficult decisions, and they will not
be made any easier or better if they are encumbered with legalistic

Bernadette Livesey

Human Rights Solicitor

Walker Morris



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