Prone restraint in mental health hospital

My partner and I recently finished Season 4 of Orange is the New Black (highly recommend), and one episode particularly resonated with me. In fact, it made me cry, and I’m not a crier.

The episode centred around an inmate named Poussey, who, in the midst of an ‘incident’ within the prison, was forcibly held to the ground by a prison guard for an extended period of time, whilst the prison guard was being tackled by another inmate.

My partner had no idea what the result of this act would be. I knew, through my work within Public Law and mental health, and I knew that the use of such restraint can bring about death.

Prone restraint is where a person is held to the ground in a face-down position and is physically prevented from moving from that position. Too much force and the result can be fatal. The concern is that prone restraint can result in dangerous compression of the chest and airways, thus placing the person being restrained at a huge risk.

The majority of NHS Trust policies on the use of such restraint suggest that it ought to be used only as a last result, following unsuccessful attempts at de-escalation. Unfortunately, I am aware of incidents where prone restraint appears to be used as a first port of call, often on those with severe learning disability, and often in mental health hospital.

I appreciate that professionals within such a setting must keep themselves, the service user and other patients’ safe, but it is frightening that use of prone restraint remains commonplace, and remains the norm, despite policy suggesting that it should be used only in the most extreme circumstances.

There is a reason that prone restraint ought to be used as a final option – in 1998, a 38 year old gentleman named David Bennett was held in the prone restraint position by 5 staff members for a 25 minute period, resulting in his death. An independent inquiry (bbc article 18/06/13) found that Mr Bennett died as a direct result of prolonged face-down restraint and the amount of forced used by staff.

Did this end the use of prone restraint? No. According to Mind (2013), there have been 13 reported incidents of restraint related deaths in the UK since this. This figure is only for those detained under the MHA 1983 and included only those deaths which were actually reported. The figure is therefore likely to be higher, particularly taking into account the years following the study.

Shockingly, as someone living and working in the North East of England, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust responded to a freedom of information request from Mind and stated that, in 2011-2012, prone restraint was used 923 times.

This is not uncommon, however, with Stewart et al (2009) finding that manual restraint is used 5 times per month on an average mental health ward. According to Mind, one Trust which responded to an FOI request stated there had been 38 incidents of prone restraint, whilst another said there had been over 3000 incidents.

Mind’s recommendation from the 2013 research was, of course, that the government ought to end the use of face down physical restraint.

Has this happened? Of course it hasn’t. The figures speak for themselves. Prone restraint continues to be used, on a large scale, and for as long as this is the case, there will be more and more restraint related deaths.

Not only ought the risk of death be enough for professionals to use every possible de-escalation technique available, but the use of such restraint can cause physical injury and psychological harm. Mind (2013) provided a quote from someone who had experienced such restraint; “it made me feel like a criminal, like I had done something wrong, not that I was ill and needed to get better”.

The free reign to use prone restraint is frightening. The fact that it is used to varying amounts across the country is worse, because it suggests either that instances of prone restraint often aren’t reported, or that staff aren’t provided with the same training across the board. I fear that both are correct.

Those detained under the MHA 1983 are in hospital, usually, for assessment and/or treatment. The mental health hospital ought to be viewed as a place of safety, where care is provided to those in crisis. The possibility of attending hospital and dying there due to an excessive use of force by those who were supposed to be caring for you, is a frightening concept, but it is one that is all too real.

Patients need to feel safe in the hospital environment. The use of prone restraint must be ended.

Nicholas Salvador – not guilty by reason of insanity

Today’s news has been filled with the face of Nicholas Salvador, a 25 year old gentleman who, last year, killed two cats before going on to behead an 82 year old grandmother in her own back garden.

Nicholas Salvador is a paranoid schizophrenic. He has today been found not guilty by reason of insanity and will spend an indefinite amount of time in a secure psychiatric hospital. What is not discussed in the news is how such a verdict works in practice. Well, officially, Nicholas Salvador will be detained under section 37/41 Mental Health Act 1983.

Section 37 is a hospital order and it operates as an alternative to a prison sentence. Section 41 is a restriction order and this is something added by the Crown Court if there are concerns regarding public safety and the patient’s own risk. Prior to someone being admitted to hospital in such circumstances, two medical practitioners must carry out assessments of the person. For a judge to give a restriction order, one of these medical practitioners must speak in court.

It is possible that Mr Salvador will have to spend some time in prison whilst waiting for a bed to become available for him – the procedure is that the Hospital Managers should find a patient a bed within 28 days.

The reason that the newspapers are stating that Mr Salvador will be detained indefinitely is because, since 2007, a section 37/41 does not have a time limit, meaning that it can run for as long as necessary with no need for it to be renewed.

Although unlikely to happen, it would be possible for Mr Salvador to appeal against today’s order of the court to the Court of Appeal, but this would need to be done within the next 28 days.

A section 37/41 is naturally strict – a patient detained on this section cannot leave hospital without the agreement of the Secretary of State for Justice. When the person’s Responsible Clinician (the doctor in charge of their care) thinks that the patient is well enough to be discharged from hospital, he will ask for the Secretary of State’s agreement. The reasons for such strict rules are clear – the person, had they not been suffering from a mental disorder, would have been sent to prison. It is section 41 that places these extra restrictions on the detention. Even if the patient wants leave from hospital, and a request for leave is made by the responsible clinician, the Ministry of Justice must agree to grant that leave, and it may simply be leave to go to the local shop.

Once the hospital order has been in place for six months, the person detained may apply for a Tribunal. With a Tribunal, a successful appeal of a section would mean that the patient can be discharged. Such discharge can be either absolute or conditional. With absolute discharge, the person will be released from detention. It is unlikely that someone who has been subject to a forensic section i.e. a section 37/41, will be granted absolute discharge. Conditional discharge is much more likely as it allows the person to remain subject to the Mental Health Act whilst living within the community. Should any of the conditions specified be broken, the patient can be recalled to hospital by the Secretary of State. As soon as a patient on a section 37/41 is recalled to hospital, there is an automatic tribunal within the first month of discharge. Following this, the section must last for six months before the patient is able to apply to the Tribunal himself.

Alternatively, if the conditional discharge goes well and all conditions are complied with, the patient may wish to apply for absolute discharge, although they do have to wait at least one year. If the application for absolute discharge following one year of conditional discharge is not successful, the person is only able to apply two yearly.

Nicholas-Salvador-_3349677b

Ta-dah! Hopefully this explains what all of the newspapers are talking about and the process involved when detaining Nicholas Salvador.