Thousands detained under Mental Health Act without proper approval

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has launched an investigation into why up to 5,000 patients were detained by doctors who were not properly approved to do so.

Jeremy Hunt (Picture credit: Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

Up to 5,000 patients have been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 by doctors who didn’t hold the necessary clearance due to a “technical error”, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted.

NHS bosses in four of the 10 strategic health authorities (SHAs) failed to get the necessary approval for their doctors to assess and detain people under the Mental Health Act. The Department of Health estimates that 2,000 doctors and between 4,000 and 5,000 patients have been affected.

Hunt insisted that all doctors involved were properly qualified to make recommendations and that no patients were detained inappropriately. However, he has ordered a review into the issue, and announced emergency legislation to retrospectively validate the approval decisions made.

The Mental Health Act requires approval of doctors to be made by the health secretary. Since 2002 this responsibility has been delegated to the SHAs.

Four SHAs – North East, Yorkshire and Humber, West Midlands and East Midlands – asked mental health trusts to carry out the approval. But they did not ask for the approval to be referred back to them for final confirmation, meaning the doctors did not have the necessary clearance.

No one inappropriately detained

“We believe that all the proper clinical processes were gone through when these patients were detained. They were detained by medically qualified doctors. We believe that no one is in hospital who shouldn’t be and no patients have suffered because of this,” said Hunt.

“But for the avoidance of any remaining doubt, and in the interests of the safety of patients themselves, as well as the potential concerns of their families and the staff who care for them, we are introducing emergency legislation to clarify the position,” he added.

The error will require “emergency retrospective legislation” and an independent review has been ordered to find out what went wrong. The review will report to Hunt by the end of the year.

All doctors have now been approved under the correct processes, the DH said.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “We hope that the strategic health authorities concerned will ensure that, regardless of the validation process, anyone currently detained under the Mental Health Act is detained using the correct procedures.”

“We welcome the independent review announced by the Secretary of State and look forward to working with the review team and the government to establish exactly what has happened and why,” added Farmer.

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