11 May 2020

There has been considerable delay in getting any scrutiny of the impact of this pandemic on mental health and learning disability settings. Transparency is essential to ensure the human rights of detained people are protected. This should not have to be fought for.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST

At a time of limited external scrutiny, as a result of the suspension of routine inspections by the Care and Quality Commission (CQC) and restrictions on family visits, such transparency is vital to ensuring the human rights of people in mental health settings are being upheld. It is also vital that the indirect impact of the pandemic is closely monitored, especially in relation to the use of seclusion, restraint and use of medication given the ever-present risk of abuse and ill treatment in closed settings.

Some incredibly concerning data was eventually disclosed on 7 May by the CQC, indicating that the number of deaths of patients subject to the Mental Health Act (MHA) (both people who are detained in hospital and people in the community) during March and April had doubled in comparison to the same period last year. 54 of these deaths are reported to be from confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections.

Despite the striking spike in deaths, this data is incomplete and does not tell us the number of deaths in mental health settings, or the number of self-inflicted deaths in this period. 

Moreover, this only includes deaths where the person is subject to the Mental Health Act. This figure does not include those who are ‘de facto detained’ in mental health settings whilst being treated ‘voluntarily’ as informal patients.

Ultimately, such figures are meaningless without being disaggregated by gender, race, age, location of death and provider and subject to an analysis of the context.

INQUEST has been lobbying around this issue the beginning of the pandemic, including representations to the Joint Committee for Human Rights. Harriet Harman MP, the chair of the Human Rights Committee wrote to Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to request the government commits to publishing these figures as soon as possible.

INQUEST has written to the Minister of State for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Nadine Dorries MP, to raise these concerns and urge the historical longstanding failure to provide detailed and regular information about deaths of people in mental health settings is addressed.

Following combined pressure being brought to bear by INQUEST, campaigners, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the media, this week, NHS England will publish data on impact of COVID-19 on patients with learning disabilities and autism.

Campaigners behind 'Every death counts' launched a crowdjustice campaign to raise funds to challenge NHS England's refusal to publish information on the deaths of people with learning disabilities and autism from COVID-19 as being discriminatory and a breach of human rights obligations. 

As explained on the crowdjustice page 'Every death counts', it appears that the promised data will only cover people who are admitted to hospital and die there. That suggests that it will not include the deaths of someone who dies in their own home, in a care home, in supported living or in an assessment and treatment unit. It is also unclear how, where and when data will be made available. Nor is it clear whether deaths in March and April will be reported. 

Please donate to 'Every death counts' if you are able to.

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