Calls for ban on use of face-down restraint in mental health hospitals

The government is considering a ban on face-down restrain in mental health hospitals in England.

The move follows figures that show that the controversial restraint technique has been used hundreds of times a year in some trusts. This level of use is described as excessive by the Health Minister, Norman Lamb.

Research carried out by mental health charity Mind finds that some mental health trusts no longer use the face-down restraint method as it is considered too dangerous and traumatic for the patient.

However, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that two mental health trusts employ the method two or three times a day!

These are Northumberland, Tyne and Wear trust and Southern Health trust, based in Southampton. In 2011/12 the trusts used the face-down restraint 923 times and 810 times respectively.

Between Northumberland and Southampton, they accounted for nearly half of all the face-down restraint revealed in the figures.

But, a number of the 54 mental health trusts approached were not able to provide figures on the method being used and this is despite the fact that it is a requirement by law to document and review every episode.

Mr Lamb has ordered specific investigations in to the use of face-down restraint at Northumberland and Southampton trusts, saying he wants them to address what he calls a ‘very considerable excessive use of restraint’.

Melanie Lidstone Land, expert medical negligence and mental health lawyer at Swain & Co says, “My clients repeatedly tell me that the use of the face-down restraint technique is degrading and terrifying for them. Trust is essential for mental health patients in order to establish a therapeutic relationship with staff, and the use of such methods of restraint can undermine that trust and, ultimately, exacerbate mental health symptoms.”

“It must not be considered acceptable for mental health trusts to employ the method on what is alleged to be an excessive scale.”

“The patients who have been subject to the method and their families are entitled to answers from the trust, and I hope the investigations provide these answers.”

In a report by Mind they say there has been 13 restraint-related deaths of people who are detained under the Mental Health Act since the death of David Bennett in 1998. Eight of those deaths occurred in one single year, which was 2011.

The independent inquiry into Mr Bennett’s death found that his death was as a direct result of prolonged face-down physical restraint and the level of force used by staff at a medium secure mental health unit.

Melanie adds, “I support the calls for investigation into this as the effect of the use of face-down restraint can be detrimental”

“Patients and their families need to trust nursing staff to protect them and their loved ones.”


Melanie is part of Swain & Co.’s mental health team and is a member of the Law Society specialist Mental Health panel.  She is also a medical negligence lawyer, experienced in helping patients and their families with a variety of issues in relation to the Mental Health Act and medical negligence matters.

So, if you or a loved one needs legal help for mental health matters or medical negligence issues, call Melanie for free on 0800 0351 999