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Hospitals must ensure that they take appropriate steps to prevent voluntary mental health patients from taking their own lives, according to a landmark judgement handed down today by the Supreme Court

The unanimous ruling, which has been welcomed by Mind and leading human rights organisations, held that Pennine Care NHS Trust had a duty under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the right to life of Melanie Rabone, and failed in this duty when she took her own life in April 2005.

This case was brought by the parents of Melanie Rabone, who had been admitted to the hospital as an emergency patient following a suicide attempt and was undergoing treatment for severe depression as an informal patient.

There was a note on file that if Melanie tried to leave, she should be assessed under the Mental Health Act with a view to detaining her. Despite this, and against the wishes of her parents, she was granted leave from the ward. Shortly afterwards she took her own life. The Trust acknowledged that it had been negligent but denied that it owed her a direct, positive duty under the Human Rights Act to protect her.

In its judgment today, the Supreme Court ruled that The Trust did have a positive duty to protect Melanie and that they had failed in this duty. The judgment means hospitals must ensure they take reasonable steps to safeguard the right to life of mental health patients in their care – regardless of whether they are detained or not – in circumstances where the authorities know or ought to know that there is a "real and immediate risk” to their life.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind said

Today’s judgment recognises that a positive duty is owed towards patients with mental health problems at times when they are most at risk of harm. The law now applies whether or not a patient has been formally detained. Now it is clear that in times of crisis everyone will have the strongest protection that the law can offer.

Emma Norton, Liberty’s Legal Officer said:

This landmark human rights judgment means that voluntary patients in psychiatric care will finally get the same legal protection as sectioned patients. Hospitals rightly acknowledge their serious duties to detained people – why should those who have asked for help be any different?

Jodie Blackstock, Director of Criminal and EU Justice Policy at JUSTICE added:

With all the scepticism currently surrounding the European Convention on Human Rights, this case demonstrates what a vital role it has in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable in society. In this case the Supreme Court has not only acknowledged that through the Convention the state holds a responsibility for those in its care to which there is a real and immediate risk of death, but when it fails in that duty, parents should be entitled to vindicate their loss also.

INQUEST Co-Director, Deborah Coles said:

INQUEST welcomes the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that psychiatric patients are owed a positive duty of protection under human rights law. This must go hand in hand with an investigation and inquest process that ensures deaths in psychiatric care are independently and robustly scrutinised. This would not only enable families to find out what happened to their relatives but also ensure lessons are learned to help prevent deaths in the future.


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Written by Scott Buckler   
Wednesday, 08 February 2012 10:34
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 February 2012 10:37


+1 #1 MH workerNHS2000,
i am very sorry for the family but this landmark decsion will have a huge impact on our very litigous world. now if your not detained and at risk patients will be held under article 2 or even use artile 2 rather than section..why not less paper work. once again landmark decisions from those who do not work in the sector or understand it. i feel overcrowding and those that realy need admission to hospital will be unable as those who know what to say will make staff fear concequence and hold them in hospital. this will be a good one for cqc to get hold of and audit.

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