In my last blog post I talked about how patients should get a better deal from mental health legislation, giving legal rights to patients to balance the compulsion of the current Mental Health Act: I spoke about the need for legal rights to treatment and care which apply before people become subject to compulsion.

But in this post I want to talk about our rights to quality care which apply after we become subject to the Act (this is distinct from the rights to challenge detention and compulsion – I’ll have more to say about that in a later post)…

I know from personal experience that hospitals can be terrifying places. Patients’ experiences of being subject to the Act can be horrifying. So when it comes to patient and carer rights, this is a good place to start.

These are the rights I suggest patients who are subject to compulsion should have:

  • A legal right to a decent hospital environment. When patients have their liberty taken away because of their illness they should have the right to a hospital environment which is high-quality, comfortable and therapeutic. After all, people can be sectioned without having done anything wrong. The least they should expect is to be detained in a pleasant environment which offers hotel-standard accommodation, not hostel-standard – and which is welcoming to families and carers.
  • A legal right to be treated with respect. Many people I’ve spoken to have had very poor experiences. They have been made to feel like second-class citizens when in fact they are simply patients receiving a service. When I was in hospital I was given the nickname “MFI” by some of the staff – it stood for “Mentally F***ing Ill”. That’s not the way to respect a patient.
  • A legal right to privacy, including having an en-suite bathroom as standard.

Is this realistic? I think so – if a new Act established the principle of having such standards then this could be backed up with a Code of Practice setting out the standards along the lines I’ve suggested: breaches of the Code would be legally challengeable.

Of course there would be debate about how demanding the standards could be in the first instance but the standards could be cranked up over time through revision of the Code.

And another point – if these standards were in place then use of compulsion would fall because many more patients would agree to voluntary admission! That would be great result in itself. Do you agree with these points – and are there other rights you think patients who are subject to the Act should have? Please contact me to let me know your views!

Jo’s Blog