5,000 mental health patients sectioned in a decade by doctors who were NOT properly authorised
Up to 5,000 mental health patients could have been sectioned in the last decade by doctors who had not been properly approved, Jeremy Hunt revealed today.
The Health Secretary said emergency legislation would be drawn up after discovering ‘irregularities’ in the way as many as 2,000 doctors were authorised to assess patients for detention under the 1983 Mental Health Act.
Since 2002, doctors in four regions had been sending patients to mental health institutions – including the Ashworth and Rampton secure hospitals, home to some of Britain’s most notorious prisoners – without being properly cleared.
The serious error only came to light last week, but Mr Hunt insisted no-one had been locked up who should not have been.
Doctors were supposed to have been approved to detain patients under the Mental Health Act by Strategic Health Authorities.
But in four areas – North East, Yorkshire and Humber, West Midlands; and East Midlands – authorisation was delegated to local mental health trusts.
Dr Geoffrey Harris, chairman of NHS South, will undertake an independent review to look ‘at how this responsibility was delegated’ by the four Strategic Health Authorities.
Mr Hunt told the Commons: ‘Our latest best estimate is that 2,000 doctors were not properly approved and that they have participated in the detention of between 4,000 and 5,000 current patients within institutions in both the NHS and independent sectors
‘There is no suggestion that hospitalisation or detention of any patient has been clinically inappropriate, nor that the doctors so approved are anything other than properly qualified to make such recommendations, nor that these doctors might have made incorrect diagnoses or decisions about the treatment patients need.
‘All the proper clinical processes were gone through when these patients were detained. We believe no-one is in hospital who shouldn’t be, and no patients have suffered because of this.’
He said doctors recommending patients to be locked up would not have known they had not been properly approved to make such recommendations and had ‘acted in good faith’.
Labour agreed to back to the government in changing the law.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: ‘Detaining people under the Mental Health Act raises the most serious issues of fundamental rights and of patient and public safety.
‘Any reported failure will therefore always be a matter of the highest concern.’
He praised Mr Hunt’s ‘pragmatic approach… to this difficult issue’.
Mr Burham added: ‘Failure to act would potentially cause unnecessary distress and uncertainty to many thousands of vulnerable patients and their families and present risks to public safety.
‘So while we will press him for answers, his action is justified, and he will have our support in removing any uncertainty.’
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