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Mental health crisis is violating human rights

As the mental health crisis deepens in the UK report shows human rights are being violated.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), has prepared a report showing serious failings in the mental healthcare provided to people in crisis. In some cases there are violation of human rights.

Campaigners said the PHSO report, titled ‘Maintaining Momentum: driving improvement in mental health care’ shows “the desperate need for reform” of “overstretched services”. They refer to multiple real life cases where individuals in mental health crisis have been seriously let down by services.

The cases detailed in the report illustrate the potentially tragic consequences of misdiagnosis:

  1. Ms J died because doctors fail to diagnose Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS), a reaction to the antipsychotic drugs that she was being treated with
  2. Mr O took his own life after clinical staff fail to diagnose Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and, as a consequence, failed to anticipate the risk of self-harm or suicide.

This is all too common in the mental health sector and is largely down to a lack of necessary resources.

As stated by Mr Behrens: “General attitudes to mental health may have become more enlightened, but serious inadequacies remain in how we care for and treat mental health patients…”

“A mark of a decent society is how we treat our most vulnerable citizens. When people are in crisis it is fundamental that those trusted to care for them respect their human rights. This means treating everyone, especially those detained under the Mental Health Act who may lack capacity to make decisions about their own wellbeing, with respect and dignity, and not, as one case study in our report shows, leaving a mental health patient, held in seclusion, to menstruate into a plastic cup by failing to provide her with sanitary towels.”

He added: “These cases are not isolated examples. They are symptomatic of persistent problems we see time and again in our complaints casework and, moreover, they represent failings throughout the care pathway.

“Patients who use specialist mental health services are among the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, any serious failings on the part of the organisations providing these services can have catastrophic consequences for them.

The report states workforce shortages in the NHS mental health service are “jeopardising” patient care and safety. It also warns plans to transform mental health services may fail unless there is action to address staff shortages. Almost one in 10 posts in specialist mental health services in England are vacant which is shocking.

An NHS spokesperson added: “This important report starkly and rightly recognises the scale of the challenge facing mental health services.

"It should be read and acted on by every part of the mental health service as over the next few years services expand, including for eating disorders, crisis care and psychosis.

"This will mean increased access, closer to home, to earlier and more effective treatment for greater numbers of people than ever before.”

Individuals who use mental healthcare services are amongst some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. Any failures can have “catastrophic consequences” for them and must be avoided at all costs.

Here at Swain & Co our specialist Mental Health Lawyers have represented many people detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 (as amended) and have assisted them to access the help they so desperately need whilst in hospital and in the community once discharged.

Report can be found at

Swain & Co Solicitors work tirelessly to assist vulnerable people and ensure that their rights under the Mental Health Act are observed.  If you, a family member or friend are experiencing problems or are detained under the Mental Health Act contact our team today on 023 92 483322. 

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