The number of NHS negligence cases involving mental health issues continues to soar with alarming figures, a major concern for the way the NHS regulates.
The NHS must provide patients with safe care and treatment, in order to prevent them being a risk to themselves, and preventing the public from being exposed to avoidable harm. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as it appears the NHS fail in their duty of care owed to thousands of patients, and the consequences are often dire.
The duty of health authorities
The judgment in the case of: Savage v South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust sets an important precedent that there is a duty on health authorities under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, to take all reasonable measures to prevent mental health patients from committing suicide.
However, according to a survey undertaken for the Guardian, more than 7 out of 10 (72%) Consultant Psychiatrists who specialise in treating children and adolescents say that NHS care for under-18’s experiencing a mental health crisis is either inadequate or very inadequate. Only 19% said NHS services were adequate and just 9% said they were good. Psychiatrists also warn a failure to give immediate help to those in crisis could result in problems becoming more chronic. These are very worrying findings, flagging up the need for a better system to govern this fragile area.
Peter Hindley, the chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry commented: “These young people feel very upset, very distressed, they may have self-harmed, they have very negative self-thoughts, possibly including suicidal intent, and they feel hopeless and that they can’t go on. Some may recently have tried to take their own lives.”
More recently, a report commissioned by NHS England has been released reflecting the failings which led to the brutal murder of Sally Hodkin in 2011. On the day of the murder, Edgington, who suffered from severe mental health issues, repeatedly called the police begging for help and told A&E staff that she needed to be sectioned, as she felt like killing someone. Although she was taken to Oxleas House mental health unit in Greenwich to be admitted, she was able to walk freely out of the unit to commit the crime. The report added there was ‘inadequate monitoring’ of Edgington which could have prevented the death of Mrs Hodkins.
If the mental health services stand a chance in transforming the way problems are dealt with, funding is crucial in making this achievable. However, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Sefton, Scarborough, the Isle of Wight, St Helens and Walsall are set to reduce spending on mental health by £4.5m. This goes against what the Government pledged in tackling the ‘stigma’ associate with mental health.
The human cost is totally unacceptable and compromises the recuperation and future life chances of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Cutting the budget in the mental health sector will inescapably result in a damaging effect.
State of care for mental health patients
Commenting on the CCG’s The state care in NHS acute hospitals: 2014 to 2016: Findings from the end of CQC’s programme of NHS acute comprehensive inspections, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Executive Director of External Affairs and Insight Alex Robertson said: ‘The government should commit to providing training and national standards to make sure NHS investigations are consistently of high quality.’
Given that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime, this is an issue which needs urgent reform if we are going to truly develop a mentally healthy society. We must begin with an improved approach on early intervention and prevention, increase in number of mental health staff, and adequate investment in order to prevent such cases from ever arising.
In the most recent Queen’s speech, it was stated ’My government will reform mental health legislation and ensure that mental health is prioritised in the National Health Service in England’, however, this is still a long way from being achieved.
Sukhvir Duggal is a Legal Assistant in Medical Negligence department.