SENI’S LAW – THE DEBATE

SENI’S LAW:

The following is a précis of the debate:

Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd November 2017.

Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Civil Society) 9:52 pm, 3rd November 2017

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Seni Lewis was a young graduate embarking on his life, aged 23, and living with his parents in Thornton Heath, when he suffered his first ever mental health episode. His parents recognised what was happening and took him to their local hospital. Seni ended up in the Bethlem Royal mental health hospital in Croydon. His parents stayed with him all day, but had to leave at 8 o’clock in the evening. Seni became very agitated when he realised they had gone, and he tried to leave, too. According to the coroner, the staff lacked the training to deal with him, and although there are no allegations that he attacked anyone, they called the police. Eleven police officers took Seni into a seclusion room and, using pain compliance techniques—the kind used against violent criminals—they took it in turns to hold him face down on the floor for 30 minutes in total. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and his legs were in restraints. They held him like that until he could no longer breathe, and he suffered a heart attack. He went into a coma, and four days later Seni was dead.

The coroner criticised Seni’s treatment as “disproportionate and unreasonable”. No patient entering a hospital for care should suffer and die in the way that Seni did. But the family’s agony did not end there. It took seven years of struggle by Seni’s grieving parents until an inquest was finally opened only this year.

The coroner found severe failings by the police and the mental health services, and she gave the stark warning that “there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.”
 
That action is this Bill.

What happened to Seni Lewis is not an isolated incident. According to the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, 46 mental health patients died following restraint between 2000 and 2014.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour MP for Torfaen  said many families in his constituency had contacted him, including some affected by autism, and they were very concerned about the kind of face-down restraint that Mr Reed “had described so movingly in talking about this case.”

Responding to a question from Mr Thomas-Symonds, Mr Reed agreed it was very important to have boundaries on the use of this restraint, and that families have some certainty about what can and cannot happen in such facilities.

Mr Reed said he was also delighted that the National Autism Society fully supported the Bill and its provisions.

“I was talking about the number of patients who have died following the use of restraint, and the many more who have been seriously injured.

“Government guidelines say that face-down restraint is so dangerous it should not be used at all, but it was used over 9,000 times in the last year alone, including 2,500 times against children as young as seven.

“People who have been restrained talk about the experience with horror. “They say that it is frightening, painful and humiliating, and they feel stripped of their dignity.

“In the words of one woman: ‘It made me feel like a criminal, like I had done something wrong, not that I was ill and needed to get better.’
 
“Statistics from the campaign group Agenda show that women are more likely to be restrained face down on the floor than men.
 
“Up to half of all women in mental health hospitals have been physically or sexually abused by men.

“Subjecting these women to face-down restraint by groups of men adds to the trauma that in many cases led to their mental illness in the first place.

“It is difficult to understand clearly from the existing data what exactly is going on. “There is no standardised way of recording why, when or how restraint is used.

“From their own data, there appear to be wide discrepancies between mental health providers. Some restrain as few as five per cent of patients, while others restrain over 50pc. “There is no good reason for that variation.”

Responding to a question from Wera Hobhouse (Liberal Democrat, Bath) Mr Reed agreed that it was now time for each provider to publish, correctly and robustly, the data available, and that the Minister make a commitment to the publication of the data.

Mr Reed continued: “There are fears about unconscious bias in the mental health services.

“The Angiolini review, a very important review published earlier this week, notes how a disproportionate number of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have died after the use of force in custody more generally.

“Black people are four times more likely to be sectioned than white people. “If we look at the faces of the people who have died after severe restraint in a mental health hospital, we see many more young black faces than in the population as a whole.

“We need to understand the extent to which assumptions based on stereotypes are causing that, but to do so we need standardised data recording.

“What the Bill proposes is simple, but it will make a big difference.

“It will standardise the way in which the data on every instance of the use of force are recorded, so that we can better understand where force is being used unnecessarily, and the extent of any bias and disproportionality in the system.

“It will improve arrangements between the police and mental health services, and require the police to wear body cameras when carrying out restraint, unless there are good operational reasons not to do so.”

Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley said he had spoken to his local care trust in Bradford, which, while it supports much of what is in the Bill, has concerns about some aspects.

How receptive would Mr Reed be to amendments, either in Committee or on Report, that try to address those concerns, or is he determined that the Bill must end up in its current form? asked Mr Davies.

Steve Reed: “The only way to go forward with the Bill is through consensus.

“I have made it absolutely clear to both Ministers sitting on the Government Front Bench that I want to work with them constructively in Committee, as they have worked with me so far, so that we can secure an outcome that is supported by both sides of the House and right across the profession.

“This week, the chief executives of 29 mental health organisations published a letter urging Parliament to back the Bill. It is supported by the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Care Quality Commission, NHS England and trade unions representing staff who do such an incredible job working in the mental health services.

“I must add my thanks to the Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Jackie Doyle-Price, for working with me so constructively; as well as my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, who supported the campaign long before he became the Leader of the Opposition.

Ruth George (Labour, High Peak) told the House that Seni Lewis was a young man who grew up in my constituency of High Peak.

“His cousin was telling me yesterday what a lovely young man he was, that he was never in trouble with the law, and what a loss to society he is.

“Does my hon. Friend agree that his family should not have had to fight for six years to get an inquest? “Will he pay tribute to them for all they have done to make sure that this never happens to another family?”

Steve Reed: “I absolutely agree. “There is an old line that justice delayed is justice denied. “No family who have lost their child in these circumstances should then have to fight the state to find out what went wrong, or to secure a modicum of justice for what happened.

“Before I continue, I want to put on record my thanks also to the Prime Minister, who has met the Lewis family on more than one occasion and who I know supports the objectives of the Bill.

“I have come to know Seni Lewis’s parents, Aji and Conrad, very well over the past few years.

“They are two of the most dignified and inspirational people I have ever met, but they have suffered pain and anguish that no parent should ever have to face.

“When I asked Aji and Conrad what they hoped for after all they have been through, they told me that they do not want Seni’s death to be in vain. They do not want any other family to suffer as they have suffered.

“I say to this House now, and to his parents, that Seni Lewis did not die in vain. “We can honour his memory by making sure that no one else suffers the way he did, and by making our mental health services equal and safe for everyone. I dedicate this Bill to Seni Lewis.

“This is Seni’s Law. I commend it to the House.”
 
Responding to other points during the debate Mr Reed said there is a weight of published academic evidence showing that the mere presence of police wearing body cameras reduces the likelihood of force being used in these circumstances by nearly 50 per cent.

“That alone is reason enough to require police to wear body cameras.”

He also wanted to make it clear that it was not his intention that the Bill should impose any additional administrative burden.

“Institutions already collect data on the use of force, but they do not collect it in the same way, so it cannot be compared. “The Bill will simply standardise what currently happens to allow greater scrutiny, rather than imposing a new burden.”

Jackie Doyle-Price, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, said she joined  members across the House in congratulating Mr Reed on bringing the Bill before us today.

“I thank him for the constructive way in which he has engaged with me and my officials. “I look forward to taking this Bill further—hopefully completing its journey—so that we can bring Seni’s law to the statute book.

“The death of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, Seni Lewis, was a tragedy. “I know that the hon. Gentleman has been deeply touched by the incident—so touched that he has brought forward this Bill, with an impressive coalition of interests behind it.

“May I send my very best wishes, through the hon. Gentleman, to Seni’s family? “It must be an incredibly difficult time for them and I extend my deepest sympathies to them.

“As we have heard, the Bill seeks to reduce the inappropriate use of force or restraint against people with mental ill health, to allow greater scrutiny of the use of force in mental health units, and to ensure that police officers use body-worn video cameras in the course of their duties in relation to people in mental health units.

“It also seeks to guarantee that the mental health system learns from and applies appropriate lessons in relation to the use of force.

“For too long, restrictive interventions have been accepted as the norm in health and mental health care settings, and we want to change that culture. “That is why the Government support the principles set out in the Bill.

“We are all agreed in this House—certainly in this debate—that we need to balance rights and liberties with the need to achieve safety. “I can say, quite categorically, that this Bill goes a long way towards achieving that.

“The Government support the principles set out in the Bill, but we accept—as I think the hon. Member for Croydon North would—that there is still some work to do on the detail regarding the right mechanisms and processes. “We can explore those matters in Committee and we are fully behind the Bill’s Second Reading.

Question agreed to. Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63). Source: TheyWorkForYou Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd November 2017.

On October 30th in the Commons Mr Reed asked Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department:

“Following the lessons from the Seni Lewis case, does the Minister agree that non-natural deaths in a mental health setting should also trigger an independent investigation—with the emphasis on independent—as already happens when a death occurs in police custody and in prisons?

“Will the Lord Chancellor’s review into legal aid for bereaved families, to which the Minister referred, also cover the deaths of people in mental health custody?”

Responding, Mr Hurd said: “I met the Lewis family, and it is impossible not to be moved by what they have had to endure. “The announcement today about a change in assumption regarding access to legal aid refers to deaths in police custody and prison. “The Justice Secretary is conducting a wider review on access to legal aid in other situations.

Source: TheyWorkForYou Independent Review: Deaths in Police Custody – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 30th October 2017.

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