Hospitals could be breaching the human rights of mental health patients by keeping wards permanently locked and imposing blanket bans on mobile phones and internet access, according to a report by the care watchdog.
The concerns were raised in the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) first annual report on the use of the Mental Health Act (MHA), which focuses on how services are using their powers under the act to treat patients detained in hospital or subject to community treatment orders.
The report found 45,755 people had been detained in hospital for assessment or treatment – higher than ever before.
And it raises concerns about the excessive use of control, restraint and seclusion by hospitals.
Cynthia Bower, CQC’s chief executive, said: “We recognise the importance of ensuring people’s safety, but more hospitals are keeping psychiatric wards locked at all times, even though they often accommodate voluntary as well as detained patients.
“In some places there are blanket bans on mobile phones and internet access. These sorts of measures could compromise patients’ privacy or dignity, hold back their progress and even breach their human rights.”
CQC said it was also concerned about the number of patients certified as consenting to treatment, but who appeared to be refusing consent or to lack the capacity to do so. It called for “significant improvement” in this area.
And it said improving patient involvement in assessing their own needs and planning their care should be “a major priority for many services”.
The report also raises concerns about the use of Community Treatment Orders (CTOs), after it found 4,107 were used in 2009/10 – more than ten times the number predicted by the Department of Health before their introduction.
CTOs are aimed at people who do not comply with treatment, to avoid having to detain them in hospital, but campaigners warned during Labour’s battle to force through its Mental Health Act in 2007 that they could be overused.
The commission found 30 per cent of people on CTOs had no history of refusing to co-operate with their treatment, while black and minority ethnic groups appeared to be over-represented among those on CTOs.
Bower said CQC had found “too much poor and unacceptable practice” and would “use our powers to ensure that care providers address these issues and make real improvements”.
Paul Jenkins, chief executive of the mental health charity Rethink, said the report suggested professionals were “sometimes opting for the easier option instead of prioritising patients’ best interests”.
He added: “This could be breaking the law and breaching the human rights of people with mental illness. It is almost certainly causing distress and hampering recovery.”
27 October 2010