MPs’ approval of Seni’s Law provides hope for traumatised service-users

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Traumatised disabled people who have been restrained in mental health units have spoken of their hope that legislation approved by MPs will lead to greater protection and support for other service-users.

The mental health units (use of force) bill has been guided through the House of Commons by the Labour MP Steve Reed in honour of Seni Lewis, a young man from his Croydon North constituency who died in 2010 after a prolonged period of face-down restraint at the hands of 11 police officers.  

It took seven years for his parents to secure an inquest into his death, with the coroner finding last year that there had been “severe failings” by the police and mental health services, and warning of a risk of future deaths unless action was taken.

Reed’s bill, which is supported by the government and covers England and Wales, still has to be debated and approved by the House of Lords but it is now likely to become law, a rarity for a private members’ bill.

Once law, it would ensure that mental health units: provide proper training for staff on the use of force; introduce a policy that aims to reduce the use of force; publish information on patients’ rights; keep a record of all incidents involving the use of force by staff; and ensure all police officers entering the unit wear body cameras.

The bill would also ensure deaths and serious injuries on mental health units are properly investigated, while the secretary of state for health and social care would have to publish annual statistics on the use of force by staff.

Disabled campaigner Deborah King welcomed the bill’s passage through the Commons.

She said: “As a teenager I was subjected to the use of force in a mental health unit.

“I was frightened for my life and the experience left me vulnerable to mental illness as an adult.

“We need staff to think creatively about alternatives to force. This is likely to require an increase in the numbers of mental health nurses.

“Steve Reed’s new law will start to define the contours of permissible force in a mental health context. Hopefully it will lead to a reduction in the use of force.”

Another disabled campaigner, who has spent time in a mental health unit and is part of the Recovery in the Bin collective, said: “I hope this will protect people like me who have been restrained from unnecessary and excessive force being used.

“I hope, as well as protecting patients going forward, it will lead to greater acknowledgement and recognition that many mental health patients at their most vulnerable have been brutalised by the people who are meant to care.

“I hope this will lead to better support for patients who are still traumatised by restraint (assault) experiences at the hand of the state.”

She added: “I am delighted that it got through and grateful that Seni’s preventable and unnecessary death may help many future patients not to be traumatised.

“And I really hope it will lead to an apology or at least acknowledgement from mental health professionals about how they’ve treated us.”

She said that many examples of restraint were not even a response to violence but a result of staff forcing medication on patients, which the Mental Health Act allows staff to do even if the patient has capacity to refuse it.

Reed told MPs on Friday: “Although the bill is called Seni’s Law, in honour of Seni, it has affected many people beyond Seni who have lost their lives or been injured simply because they were unwell, and the purpose of the bill is to make sure that that cannot happen again.”

He had said in the bill’s second reading last November that face-down restraint had been used more than 9,000 times in the previous year, including 2,500 times against children as young as seven. 

And he said a disproportionate number of deaths following restraint in mental health hospitals were of black men and women.

Luciana Berger, speaking for the Labour Campaign for Mental Health, said on Friday that new research by the charity Agenda showed that, between 2012-13 and 2016-17, 32 women who had been detained under the Mental Health Act had died after being restrained.

 

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