A step forward for inpatient rights
Posted Wednesday 8 February 2012
Mind's CEO Paul Farmer welcomes a landmark Supreme Court judgement, which promises greater protection for people with mental health problems who admit themselves to hospital voluntarily.
For many years at Mind, we have stood up for people with mental health problems who find themselves in hospital care. Over 50 years ago, our campaigning helped lead to the closure of the long stay asylums, and since then, we have continued to campaign for the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Much of this work is undertaken by Mind's small Legal Unit and our Policy and Campaigns team, which are both funded by public donations to undertake this work.
Along the way, we've seen some noticeable changes. Successive pieces of legislation have strengthened the rights of 'patients'. The effect of this has been a noticeable change in the way that people are treated, and as our crisis care inquiry found, a combination of legal change, more direct user involvement and improved resources to support staff has led to an improvement in inpatient care in much of the country.
But we also know that in some places, care is not as it should be, with insufficient regard to treating someone with dignity and respect. Our inquiry identified a number of ways to ensure a more uniform level of care.
Today, the Supreme Court's judgement has further strengthened the need for hospitals to treat people with dignity and respect. This case, following the tragic suicide of Melanie Rabone, now makes it clear that hospitals have a positive duty to protect the life of people who are voluntary patients by taking appropriate steps to prevent them taking their own lives.
This reinforces an earlier case, which Mind was also involved in, which made this duty clear for people who were sectioned. This may sound like a minor change, but this protection is now extended from the 40,000 people who are detained each year under mental health legislation to over 100,000 people who will receive inpatient care each year. Hospital staff will always do their best to protect people - this judgement will ensure that they receive the support they need from the NHS to do this well.
It's also important to recognise the role of Human Rights law in this case. Sadly in many people's eyes, human rights law has become associated with the extremist terrorist 'getting away' from justice, or unwanted European interference.
Yet this case is an example of what's good about human rights law - this decision was made in a UK court and will help protect the dignity of tens of thousands of people every year who deserve to treated with humanity and care. It acts as an important safeguard and helps support frontline staff, families and people themselves at one of the most difficult times of their lives.
This decision, achieved with skill by barristers who give their time for free, and interventions by Mind, Liberty, JUSTICE and INQUEST, should be welcomed widely as a thoroughly appropriate use of human rights law which will lead to more safeguards for people with serious mental health problems.
Commenting is now closed.