Mental health lawyers from one of the area’s top law firms have praised the huge amount of publicity being generated by the media across England and Wales in support of Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 16-22 May 2016.
GHP Legal is one of only a very few law firms in the region to have a dedicated Mental Health department and specialist lawyers at the firm have long campaigned for greater understanding of mental health problems and, in particular, fairer treatment of sufferers who are detained in hospitals, prisons and other institutions.
John Lancaster, a Senior Solicitor in the firm’s Mental Health team and an authority on Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS), has appeared on radio and television on many occasions urging friends and family of mental health sufferers to speak out on their behalf if they are not being heard by the authorities and, if necessary, seek legal help.
“One in three people experience mental illness at some stage of their lives,” says Mr Lancaster, “and all too often this can result in them being detained in hospital, losing their rights, and especially their liberty. Yet despite the high number of cases there is surprisingly little help available to these people.
“As part of a dedicated Mental Health team acting for patients in hospitals and nursing homes right across North and Mid Wales, Shropshire and the North-West, I am regularly called upon to enforce the rights of patients because they have been infringed, or to advise on their rights to appropriate after-care following hospital discharge. I am concerned about people being held in prisons when their mental disorder properly requires a transfer to hospital. This will be a problem on our doorstep when HMP Berwyn opens near Wrexham.
“Figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) last Autumn showed a 10% increase in the number of mental health patients detained in England alone in the previous twelve months, and we know that in Betsi Cadwaladwr UHB the pressure of detained patients needing a locked ward place is pretty dire. So this is a national problem and one that still needs to be urgently addressed.
“Doctors across the country are being forced to detain patients under the Mental Health Act in order to secure a hospital bed for them. That doctors are having to section patients in order to get them treated is scandalous.”
“In many cases patients just need a quiet place of refuge where they can receive help and healing. They should not have to be deprived of their liberty to get there. Indeed, depriving them of their liberty can itself be damaging to their well-being.
“In addition to this patients are often sent to unfamiliar surroundings far away from family and friends, which is distressing not only for them but also for their loved ones who may not be able to travel to see them.
“Instead of less beds being available every year for mental health sufferers there needs to be more. And they should be readily available without the need for enforced detention to secure them.
“If someone is sectioned under the Mental Health Act it is essential that their detention is reviewed by a Mental Health Review Tribunal or hospital managers as early as possible and that their relatives receive advice regarding their rights and responsibilities to be involved.”