New legislation has been created to better protect patients in mental health settings from the use of unnecessary and/or excessive force by those responsible for their care.
The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act is also known as 'Seni's Law', in memory of Olaseni Lewis, a young black man who died in 2010 after being restrained by 11 police officers in Bethlem Royal Hospital in Croydon. He was only 23 years old.
The inquest into Mr Lewis's death found that the restraint used by the officers was "disproportionate and unreasonable" and contributed to his death. No officers faced criminal charges.
The new law is the result of a tireless campaign by Mr Lewis's family, alongside various campaign groups, to tackle the lack of oversight of patients' treatment within mental health settings and the disproportionate use of restraint on patients from black and minority ethnic groups, on women, children and young people, and on people with learning disabilities and autism.
Staff training with be patient-focused and will address unlawful discrimination and respect for diversity, as well as de-escalation techniques so that every effort is made to avoid the use of force altogether. Training will also focus on understanding the physical and psychological impact on patients of being restrained and, in particular, the risk of re-traumatisation.
Organisations operating as mental health units must appoint someone to be responsible for publishing and implementing the organisation's policy on the use of force and the steps taken to reduce the force used. Mental health units must clearly communicate to children, young people, parents and carers about how use of force is managed and recorded.
Hospitals are now required to record the specifics of all uses of force which are considered more than "negligible". At the end of each year, the Secretary of State will now publish statistics regarding the use of force in mental health units.
Police officers are now also required to wear body-worn cameras when assisting staff in mental health units, if and when it is reasonably practicable to do so. The failure to do so will not, in itself, give rise to any civil or criminal liability but may be taken into account by any court or tribunal which comes to look into the question of liability in due course.
It is intended that greater awareness about the physical and psychiatric risks involved in the use of force and clear record-keeping about incidents of restraint will lead to a system of increased transparency and more effective accountability, which should ultimately create a safer environment for patients.
Civil Liberties, Inquests, and Civil Actions Against the Police Specialist Legal Advice
At Saunders Law, we offer expert legal assistance and representation in matters arising from deaths in state custody, including in inquest proceedings and resulting civil claims. We appreciate that circumstances like these are exceptionally difficult and that everyone's experience is different, and we are used to adapting our service to make sure that it meets our clients' needs.
Should you be looking for advice in this or a related area, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free, no-obligation, initial discussion to see if we might be able to help.
Call us on 02076324300 or make an enquiry online.