Coroner criticises loopholes in law

The government has been attacked over
loopholes in the Mental Health Act 1983 that allowed a mentally ill
man to walk out of a hospital to his death.

Isle of Wight coroner John Matthews said he
believed that six fatal incidents involving vulnerable people on
the island in recent years could have been avoided if restraint
laws were clearer.

He said people were slipping through the net
because vulnerable people could only be sectioned if there was a
categoric diagnosis of mental illness.

Promising to write to the government to urge
it to consider the problem, Matthews said: “Hospitals should be
given temporary restraining powers for a short period to give a
breathing space.”

Matthews’ comments came at the inquest into
Clifford Cross, of Binstead, Isle of Wight, who was found in the
River Medina in August last year, having walked out of St Mary’s
hospital in Newport.

Cross was admitted to hospital three days
before his death, having suffered a fit at his parents’ home. A
staff nurse asked the duty doctor to have him sectioned, but this
was not done because the doctor did not want to wake the

Recording an open verdict, Matthews said he
was concerned there was no crisis management team and only one
doctor and a security guard on duty overnight. He said there had
been no attempt to start the sectioning process and branded
communications between Seven Acres Mental Health Unit and the
hospital as inadequate.

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