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Human rights call to support psychiatric patients' rights

1 August 2014

Action is needed to ensure that legal protections for patients in psychiatric hospitals are actually observed, according to the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC).

The call follows publication of the latest monitoring report by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, into the use of restrictions on patients in psychiatric hospitals.

Based on visits to 65 wards in 27 hospitals over a four month period in 2013, the report contains evidence of restrictions being imposed on people’s freedom without proper legal authority, including room searches, rub down searches and monitoring of phone calls without justification. The report also highlights a general lack of knowledge of people’s appeal rights, among both patients and staff.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Alan Miller, chair of the SHRC, said: “When someone is admitted to a psychiatric hospital, their human rights always stay with them: that is a fundamental principle that must always be respected. This report from the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland shows an unfortunate gap between the laws that protect everyone’s rights in theory, and the experiences people have in practice. For anyone who is in the already vulnerable situation of being detained in hospital, this is concerning.

“Clearly, more work is needed to help patients understand and claim their rights, and to help staff understand and discharge their responsibilities to respect people’s rights. Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights [published by the SHRC in December 2013] provides an established framework for government, the health service, regulators and others to take action to address this. Action will include implementing the commitment in the Mental Health Strategy to increase awareness, understanding and respect for human rights in mental health services.”

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