Earlier this month, Steve Reed MP, introduced a private member’s bill to the House of Commons which is being informally referred to as Seni’s Law – the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill 2017. This follows the death in 2010, of Olaseni Lewis in a hospital in south London – an incident to which the police were called and which involved restraint. Mr Reed is the local MP for Seni Lewis’s parents who have campaigned for justice since this tragic incident and the publication of a PMB in Parliament brings the possibility of legal changes which may assist in protecting individuals whilst they are detained in hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983.
The Bill has received support in principle across the political spectrum so it’s extremely likely that a version of this Bill will become law in England at some point next year. (It will not affect the other three countries of the UK because health issues are devolved in those jurisdictions).
The Bill is largely not about the police, I am very pleased to say. It is mostly about the NHS having proper systems in place to govern the use of restrictive practices, esp physically restrictive practices like restraint, and that such matters are properly recorded, reported and analysed at both local and national level. For example, there would be a requirement for the Secretary of State to produce a report in connection with the data that would be gathered by law. This for me represents the multi-factorial explanation that the Inquest jury returned in connection with Seni’s death: see my post from the time of the inquest for more detail on that.
My own view is that this law is largely welcome: at various times over the last few years, it has become obvious to me that the scrutiny of our NHS around use of physical force and coercion is at odds with how we hold police, prisons and other arenas of detention to account. The Bill would also call for an independent investigation of certain types of death in the NHS and this is something I’ve suggested should occur for some while. I fully understand that many of the deaths which occur in our NHS where patients are detained against their will are largely deaths caused by natural causes – for example, an elderly patient with dementia who dies primarily as a result of conditions associated with old age and which are nothing to do with the detention of the state. But when a teenager dies in NHS care, unexpectedly and in unexplained circumstances, the approach needs to reflect modern standards we impose upon other agencies who detain and coerce people.
I recently attended the book launch in London for Sara Ryan’s absorbing book which outlines her compelling campaign to secure justice for her son, Connor Sparrowhawk. Connor died in an Oxfordshire learning disabilities unit, contributed to by neglect and at the book launch I was also most fascinated to hear from the family’s barrister, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, who argued that were it not for Sara and her family, there would probably not have been any kind of investigation. Part of the ‘Justice for Laughing Boy’ campaign was to highlight how much difference there is in the state’s response to unexplained or unexpected deaths in NHS care, when compared to what occurs in police or prison custody. We may have concerns and questions about the IPCC, but at least they exist to be criticised and challenged. The police weren’t even called to Connor’s death, not withstanding that it was initially unexplained and unexpected.
The main ‘police’ element of this Bill bears some explaining because I want to gather views around it – especially from those with experience of being detained in mental health units. One clause creates a strict requirement that any officer called to a mental health unit for any reason should be wearing body worn video from the point they are called to attend. This is obviously about accountability where the police are called and things have gone awry and presumably is about giving effect to the theory that officer behaviour is modified where the officers know they’re on camera, but for me it raises some further, more interesting questions.
Inpatient settings are supposedly places of sanctuary for those of us with mental health issues when we are at our most vulnerable – we don’t, to my knowledge, routinely have CCTV cameras giving full coverage on MH wards because of the argument that it violates patient privacy principles, but by arguing for body-worn-video on officers, we seem to want such cameras brought in when the police attend. So —
Surely an independent investigation in to a death in NHS care (whether or not the police were involved) would only benefit from CCTV? – I’ve been wondering why the Bill wants the police videod but not NHS nurses who restrain patients. Think about the cases of Rocky Bennett (1998) or more recently Joseph Phuong (2016) to consider NHS restraint related deaths that would not have been caught on body worn video because the police were not involved at the point where clinical staff were restraining patients. Is it any more or less controversial or in need of close scrutiny that someone who died in the custody of the state died following restraint by nurses or by police officers? I admit to not understanding the difference – at all.
Let me know any thoughts you have, in the comments below – there’s more to it than I’ve covered here, but my time is limited at the moment. Apart from anything else, the NPCC are being asked questions about practical matters of implementation so your views could be represented in the replies given by the Boss if you let us know what they are!
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