Court bid seeks independent probes into detention deaths


theweeksubA mental health trust was guilty of discrimination by failing to ensure there was an independent investigation into the death of a leading disabled campaigner, the high court heard this week.

Janey Antoniou killed herself in October 2010 while in the care of Central and Northwest London NHS Trust, and a subsequent inquest was highly critical of the trust’s risk management.

A judicial review taken against the trust, health secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England by her husband, Michael, and funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), began today (Thursday) and was expected to finish tomorrow.

Wendy Hewitt, EHRC’s deputy director of legal, said: “Anyone detained against their will in an institution is in a very vulnerable situation. If they die, it is essential that there is an independent investigation.

“The risks of an institution investigating its own actions, as in this case, are obvious and it also means that lessons that could reduce the chances of other people dying may be overlooked.

“Deaths in prisons or in police cells are automatically subject to an investigation by an independent body. Deaths of persons detained in psychiatric hospitals, who may be even more vulnerable, are not.

“We are backing this review to ensure that a proper investigation happens in all such cases.”

The commission believes that the failure to refer such deaths automatically to an independent body for investigation is discriminatory under the Equality Act, and violates the right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

It also believes that the state should have “proper systems” to prevent self-harm and suicide by all detained patients, guidance to make sure those systems are followed, and “an effective independent judicial system so the cause of death can be established”.

A spokeswoman for Central and Northwest London NHS Trust said it was “not appropriate” to comment until the judicial review had finished.

Antoniou fought to improve the care of people with mental heath conditions and to battle the stigma they faced. Rethink, the mental health charity she worked with, said she spoke to tens of thousands of people about the realities of living with mental illness.

She was also the service-user representative on the panel that developed the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s schizophrenia guidelines.

Last month, Rethink launched an award in her name – funded by her family – to recognise those who are continuing her work educating people about mental illness and bringing about change in the mental health sector.

Meanwhile, new figures from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) show that seven of the 15 people who died in police custody in 2012-13 had mental health conditions. Four of those who died had been restrained by police officers.

Dame Anne Owers, chair of the IPCC, said it was “of continuing concern” that almost half of those who died in police custody had mental health conditions, as did nearly two-thirds of those who killed themselves within two days of release from custody.

She said it was “clearly important” that the police received better training in dealing with people with mental ill-health.

And she said the figures “also point to gaps and failings in the services that ought to support those with mental illness – before, instead of and after contact with the criminal justice system”.

25 July 2013