The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAPDC) has called for mental health deaths to be independently assessed in the same way as those in prison or police custody.
Figures show that 261 sectioned hospital patients died in England last year, whereas there were 189 deaths in prison and 31 in police custody yet, while those in police, prison and immigration custody are all subjected to independent investigation to comply with Article 2, the right to life, of the European Convention of Human Rights, mental health deaths have not been subjected to the same scrutiny.
A House of Lords ruling in 2008 asserted that hospitals had a duty to protect psychiatric patients from taking their own lives and that investigations into unexpected deaths or where there were suspected failures of care, should comply with Article 2. However, four years after the ruling, it appears that many families still face many obstacles in their fight to find out the truth about the death of a loved one.
Legal representation is rare in such cases and this has added to the difficulties families face when trying to question the independence of expert evidence, witnesses and the scope of any inquiry. Lord Toby Harris, chair of the IAPDC, says that institutions have been investigating themselves which has made it very difficult for families wanting to take further any concerns about cover ups.
A spokesman from the Department of Health said it was vital that the NHS learned lessons from each suicide to try and ensure it did not happen again. “This is why all suicides in hospital will be investigated by the coroner at a public, independent inquest. This complies with Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights”.