Call for open investigations into deaths of mental health patients

Call for open investigations into deaths of mental health patients

By William Smith

A mental health campaigner’s death, whilst in the care of a north London hospital, and the inquest into her death has sparked anger.  Janey Antoniou was a leading schizophrenia campaigner who influenced many leading mental health organisations.

Janey, 53, campaigned tirelessly for those using mental health services and became a trainer with services such as the police.  At the age of 30 Janey was diagnosed with schizophrenia and died in 2010 in her room at a hospital in Harrow, London.

Now campaigners are fighting so that investigations into the deaths of patients whilst they are in the care of mental health hospitals are independent and open.  A report in the Guardian newspaper last weekend states that one such death occurs every day, on average, in England and Wales.

An inquest jury found, earlier this month, that Janey Antoniou’s death was inadvertent ‘following self-harming by use of ligature’.  The jury commended staff for trying to ‘build sincere and trusting relationships’ with her but they were highly critical of several other matters which included the hospital’s risk management.

Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, the same trust that was responsible for Janey’s care, conducted the investigation into her death.  The investigation findings have not been made public.

Janey’s husband, Dr. Michael Antoniou, made objections over the lack of independence of the proceedings but they were rejected by the trust.  This will now be the subject of judicial review proceedings which will be funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  The commission’s general counsel, John Wadham, said ‘Anyone detained against their will in an institution is in a very vulnerable situation.  An independent investigation would ensure that anyone culpable is identified and dealt with and lessons are learned that could reduce the chances of other people dying.’

The Guardian reports that there were 3,628 deaths in mental health detention (501 self-inflicted) between 2000 and 2010.  This figure accounts for 61% of all deaths in state custody.  The proportion of deaths recorded from ‘natural causes’ is also exceptionally high.

According to a statement for the judicial review, Dr Antoniou states that the trust did not keep him informed, interview him or his family, or ask for any input from him.  The Guardian reports that Dr Antoniou was left feeling ‘dazed’ and distressed’ by the experience during which he was told that the trust would not be disclosing documents and did not offer any support or advice.

Surely it is time that his injustice should end.  We read, all too often, of the deaths of mental health patients whilst in the ‘care’ of hospitals. Mental health patients are vulnerable and should be protected in every way necessary for their wellbeing and safety.  If we are to learn lessons and safeguard others we need investigations which are open and transparent.

Your rating: None Average: 9 (1 vote)