Mental health service closures

Whilst working within mental health and mental capacity law, I’ve found that there are many situations which really strike me personally. In particular, I have developed an interest in wrongdoings within mental health services, because I can see the situation from the perspective of the outpatient service user, having been involved with services since 2012.

Access to services is a huge issue at the moment. I was rather lucky in that I was able to gain access to services quite quickly through IAPT, though, once my course of CBT had ended, I was basically left in the dark.

I read something on twitter the other day from a service user, stating that he’d missed an appointment because the letter from the hospital had taken so long to arrive. I mean, in 2016, how is that still happening? It may seem like a small thing to some, most likely to the hospital, but these appointments, in times of both crisis and calm, provide routine and stability for service users.  When I was making regular trips to appointments with mental health services, it gave me a sense of comfort just to know that I was doing something. Had I missed an appointment because of the appointment letter being sent by carrier pigeon, particularly with my anxiety when it was at its worst, that would have been one of the worst things that could happen; from the outside looking in, it seems that mental health services can’t empathise with this or many others’ experiences.

Access to inpatient services is where this real division of interest is shown. We’re all aware of the distinct lack of beds within mental health units, which are needed by those who are usually in crisis and cannot be treated effectively in the community. Yet despite this known issue, more and more mental health units and hospitals are closing every year.

According to The Kings Fund, ‘Mental health under pressure’ (November 2015) 40% of mental health trusts experienced a reduction in income in 2013/14 and 2014/15. The analysis by The Kings Fund confirms what many of us interested in this area already know – there are more and more people being detained under the Mental Health Act (a 9.8% increase in 2014/15 compared to the previous year); a lot of these actually receive poor care, particularly when in crisis (only 14% of patients say that they received appropriate care in a crisis); the number of beds is decreasing, meaning that services cannot meet the demand; and, despite this, mental health units continue to be closed down. So, what is the outcome from that? People are either left without the help that they need, or are detained in a hospital somewhere far from home, far from normality, and far from comfort. According to a Freedom of Information request by the Community Care and BBC News, 4,447 patients were sent out of area by 37 NHS mental health providers in 2014/15. 88% of the 4,447 were sent out of area due to beds being full.

I have been looking in to closures of mental health units and, even if you just give it a quick google, you can see the scale of the problem. By way of example, in October 2015 Bootham Park Hospital, York’s only public adult mental health hospital, was closed following a report by the CQC, with 5 days’ notice being given. How many people did this affect? 30 inpatients and 400 outpatients. When something like this happens, particularly with such short notice, it must be like being abducted, and ripped away from everything you knew. In February 2016, Outpatient services resumed, after a huge amount of local pressure. However, for those patients in crisis, requiring inpatient care, they, and their families, are expected to travel 50 miles.

50 miles isn’t the worst it could be. There are instances of people being placed 300 miles from home. But, when these patients are very unwell, to be placed in hospital in a completely new area, in my opinion, surely can’t help them in the short term. Whilst detained under the Mental Health Act, a patient can be granted section 17 leave from their Responsible Clinician. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to enjoy leave in an area you have never been before. Leave is a way of readying patients for discharge, but, certainly for those with anxiety, going out in the community in an unknown area would be incredibly daunting, and could even be a bit of a step-back. It’s hard to see how having leave in a town 100, 200, 300 miles from home is going to prepare you for living in your community.

Another example of mental health unit closures, resulting in patients having to travel, and one that is actually happening right now, is The Welland Centre, in Market Harborough. I came across this closure in an article a couple of weeks ago – The Welland Centre, which provides adult community health services, hosts clinics for up to 450 patients. That’s 80 patients each week and approximately 4000 appointments each year, and patients will be expected to travel elsewhere to access the help that they need.

One patient of the service has developed a petition to save the service – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131744 – which currently has 764 signatures, one of those, of course, being my own. Should the Welland Centre close, patients would be expected to travel for one hour and a quarter to reach the service. For those who do not drive, like myself, this is two bus journeys. When I was having regular appointments with mental health services at Warwick Uni, I had to travel by bus from where I lived in Leamington Spa onto campus. Sometimes, when I was feeling particularly low, I simply couldn’t do it. I had so much anxiety around the University campus, the bus, the students, that I physically couldn’t get on the bus to get to the appointment sometimes. I probably never would have attended any appointments if I had to take two buses.

Now, putting my legal hat on, one big issue for me in situations involving closures of services, is that patients, families, and those who simply have an interest, do not know that the law can assist. When people are informed that their service, usually a service they have used for many years, is closing, they can feel alone. People generally don’t know (and, to be honest, why would they) that there are possible ways to legally challenge the decision to close the service – to go back to Bootham Park hospital in York (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/14/the-nhs-mental-health-hospital-closed-with-just-five-days-warning), lawyers are representing the families of some former patients of the hospital and are seeking a judicial review of the “forced closure” of the service.

Judicial review is where a case is taken to the High Court, and it is argued that a decision of a public body is unlawful. This could be that the body has acted beyond its powers, or has not taken something into account etc. Obviously, there is no guarantee that any challenge would be successful, but I think that it is vital that there is something that can be done legally, at least to try to stop any decision to close a service.

That is why I really enjoy working within this area of law. Despite all of the issues with mental health services, and despite the general thought that lawyers are cold and can’t help real people, I like to think that in this area we actually could make a difference and, if a difference can’t be made, it is always nice to say we tried.

 

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards

The number of people living with Alzheimer’s who are subject to deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS) is on the increase. DoLS are intended to ensure that residents in care homes and hospitals are protected in a way that does not deprive them of their liberty (if a person lives in supported living or their own home then it is possible to deprive them of their liberty in their best interests, but this must be done by applying directly to the Court of Protection). Effectively, DoLS authorise a deprivation of liberty when it is necessary to do so for a patient or resident who lacks capacity to consent to care or treatment in order to keep them safe from harm.

It has recently been reported that DoLS are linked to delays in families being able to bury their loved ones when they have died in a care home. This is because regulations require state inquests into such deaths, even when the cause of death is fairly clear – the deceased who was subject to the safeguards is considered to have died ‘in state detention’ thus an inquest is needed and the release of the body is delayed.

The Independent on 28th May 2015 interviewed a relative of someone who had been subject to the safeguards and who was forced to wait for 2 months before being able to bury the deceased. That relative stated “who actually benefits from these safeguards? It’s a box ticking exercise and I’m just so glad it’s finally over”.

There has been a dramatic rise in DoLS applications over the past year – The Independent quotes that 113,000 applications were made and that 36% of these were granted. That same article also includes a quote from George McNamara, Alzheimer’s Society, who states “DoLS are important for people with dementia to make sure they are not wrongly deprived of liberty but the current system is complicated and there is lack of awareness about the process”. I agree entirely with this statement and hope that this post will bolster people’s understanding of DoLS and their beneficial uses.

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards are part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. A deprivation of liberty is described as occurring when ‘the person is under continuous supervision and control and is not free to leave, and the person lacks capacity to consent to these arrangements’.

For a person to have capacity, they must be able to : 1) understand information relevant to the decision they want to make 2) retain that information long enough to allow them to make a decision 3) weigh up that information to come to a decision 4) communicate that decision.

The ECtHR has clarified what may amount to a deprivation of liberty. Examples of such deprivation include: restraint so that someone may be admitted to hospital; medication given against the person’s will; staff making all decisions about a person; and staff restricting a person’s access to family and friends. The point is that, whilst doing these things does deprive someone of their liberty, it is done for the person’s own benefit – therefore a DoLS is something that legally authorises the deprivation of liberty. If the examples above took place without a DoLS in place, then the person’s human rights would have been breached. Thus, under the MCA restraints and restrictions are allowed to be used when in a person’s best interests, but DoLS are needed if this restriction and restraint amounts to a deprivation of liberty.

If a relative were in a care home/hospital, and you felt that they were being deprived of their liberty but there is no authorisation for such deprivation in place, then the first port of call would be the care home manager – always attempt to resolve things from the bottom and an agreement could be reached re more freedom for your relative. If the care home manager does not think that an authorisation is needed, then you would approach the local authority and ask them to investigate whether a deprivation of liberty has taken place.

It is against the law to deprive someone of their liberty without there being an authorisation in place.

The recent case of Re AJ [2015] clarified that a local authority, when it knows that a person will be entering a care facility on a permanent basis, should make an application to the court or carry out a DoLS assessment. Effectively, authorisation should be obtained before any deprivation of liberty occurs. If an authorisation has not been made prior to a person’s move into a care setting, then an urgent authorisation could be made by the care home/hospital manager when the person arrives, although Re AJ [2015] confirmed that such an authorisation should last for no more than seven days, save in exceptional circumstances, and that an application for standard authorisation ought to be made at the same time.

The assessment process for a standard authorisation involves at least two independent trained assessors – one mental health assessor and one best interest’s assessor. If the pair do not think that all of the conditions have been met then the deprivation of liberty will not be authorised. This procedure is intended to protect the patient or resident in question. Part of the assessment process is that family, friends and paid carers who know the person well be consulted so that they may give suggestions as to how the person may be supported without depriving them of their liberty.

Should the care home resident or hospital patient concerned have no family or friends, they can utilise the support of an IMCA (Independent Mental Capacity Advocate) during the assessment process.

Following authorisation, a Relevant Person’s Representative (RPR) should be appointed as soon as possible. It will tend to be a family member or friend who will fulfil this role but if no one will take on the role on an unpaid basis then the supervisory body will have to pay someone to be the person’s RPR. In such a case, it is likely that this will be an advocate. If the RPR is unpaid (which would be the case if it were a friend or family member) then both the person and the RPR are entitled to the support of an IMCA.

An authorisation for a deprivation of liberty is intended to last for the shortest time possible, with the maximum authorisation time being 12 months, during which time regular checks must be carried out to determine whether the authorisation is still needed. If the authorisation is no longer necessary, then it must be removed. The patient/resident and their RPR are able to challenge the deprivation of liberty in the Court of Protection at any time, and can also require the authorisation for the deprivation to be reviewed at any time. The review would determine whether the criteria to deprive the person of their liberty is still met and, if so, whether the conditions need to change.  The home or hospital should do all that it reasonably can to explain to a detained person and their family what their rights of appeal are.

Useful info on DoLS can be found at:

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/deprivationlibertysafeguards.aspx

http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/ataglance/ataglance43.asp