Council’s actions in Prader-Willi case raises concerns

    Last week a local authority citing the Mental Health Act put a
    31-stone man into a mental health hospital against his will because
    he could not stop eating, writes Amy
    Taylor.

    Chris Leppard, who has Prader-Willi syndrome and cannot tell
    when his stomach is full, was admitted for an assessment and
    detained for seven days.

    Leppard said he will sue East Sussex social services. The
    council said that it has followed “proper
    procedures”.

    Tony Holland, president of the Prader-Willi Syndrome
    Association, said that the syndrome could come under the Mental
    Health Act’s definition of mental disorder. “The
    question is therefore not can it be used, but rather should it be
    used?” he said.

    “The Mental Health Act may have a place to play in acute
    situations and only then as part of a longer term strategy to
    establish an appropriate social care placement ideally
    locally,” he added.

    In this case the act was only used to carry out an assessment on
    Leppard but if the draft mental health bill becomes law, people
    with the syndrome could be forced into compulsory treatment.

    Tim Spencer-Lane, mental health and disability policy advisor at
    The Law Society, said the syndrome could “quite easily”
    be seen as a mental disorder under the definition given in section
    two of the Mental Health Act which allows authorities to detain a
    patient in hospital for an assessment for up to 28 days.

    However the syndrome would not come under the definition used in
    the rest of the act because this is much tighter and therefore it
    could not be used to give someone compulsory treatment.

    However, he says the definition used in section two is the one
    used for the whole of the draft mental health bill so compulsory
    treatment, such as medication, could be given to a much wider range
    of people.

    “Someone with Prader-Willi syndrome could be put on a
    compulsory treatment order under the new bill”, he said.

    Paul Farmer, chair of the Mental Health Alliance, agreed that
    the definition used in the draft bill will potentially increase the
    number of people being compulsorily treated.

    He added that under this bill, alcoholics and drug addicts could
    also be made to have such treatment as unlike the current act there
    are no exemptions from sectioning for these groups.

    The alliance is campaigning for the exemptions to be included in
    the new legislation.

    It is also concerned about whether the system has the capacity
    to cope this potential increase, he added.

    Critics are concerned that the draft bill has the potential to
    breach people’s human rights if it leads to people being
    detained incorrectly.

    Farmer says that there are human rights concerns but is hopeful
    that they will be ironed out through the parliamentary process.

    Leppard’s case highlights the challenges of having a
    broad-based definition of a mental disorder.

    As Martin Ball, spokesperson for mental health charity MACA
    concludes: “People looking at that sort of example will begin
    to think what will the state do with the new powers that the draft
    bill contains?”

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