GMB calls on members to help reduce deaths in mental health hospitals by writing to their MP

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GMB MP Steve Reed's Private Members Bill "Seni's Law" will have it's 3rd reading in parliament next week. The bill seeks to reduce the number of deaths in mental health hospitals.

Details of the petition to email your MP about the bill can be found here: . Here Steve Reed explains why GMB members should call on their MP to support the bill. 

Seni Lewis was a 21-year-old young man living in Thornton Heath with his parents.  He’d recently graduated from University and had a bright future ahead.  One Sunday morning his parents found him in a very agitated state which they quickly recognised as a mental ill health episode.  Seni was physically healthy with no prior history of mental ill health.  Deeply worried, Seni’s parents took their son to the local hospital and he was later transferred to a mental health hospital.  They stayed with him as long as they could before going home exhausted that evening.     

After his parents left, Seni became very anxious.  He resisted attempts by hospital staff to restrain him and they called the police.  Eleven police officers took Seni into a seclusion unit with his arms handcuffed behind his head, his legs in shackles, and pinned him face-down on the floor until he suffered a heart attack and became unconscious.  Shortly afterwards Seni died. 

Having gone through the trauma of losing their beloved son, Seni’s devastated parents were then left to fight the state for years to find out how it had happened.  Serious failings by the Crown Prosecution Service and obstruction by the Metropolitan Police meant no inquest into Seni’s death was held for a further seven years.  As the family’s MP, I raised questions in Parliament and took them to meet the Home Secretary at the time, Theresa May MP, to get an inquest opened.  Having lost their son in the most appalling circumstances, the family were now denied the justice they deserved.    

When the Coroner’s verdict finally came in June 2017 it was damning.  It found that Seni had been subject to ‘prolonged disproportionate and unreasonable’ restraint.  Training for police and hospital staff was inadequate, responsibilities were unclear, medical staff failed to respond to the medical emergency and the hospital was failing to follow its own policies on patient safety.  The Coroner warned that without change further deaths could occur.

That change is the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, known as Seni’s Law in memory of the young man whose tragic death inspired it.  According to the mental health charity Mind there have been 13 face-down restraint-related deaths since 1998 and over 1000 physical injuries.  Much of that sufferering could have been avoided if lessons had been learnt from the many inquests going back decades that were simply ignored. 

Look at the faces of those who died and it’s clear that young black men are disproportionately at risk.  This raises fears of unconscious racial bias, with anecdotal evidence linking their deaths to assumptions about young black men, drugs, psychosis and violence.  No one should face discrimination, and yet there are widespread and justified fears in the black community about racial bias in the mental health services.  The Government’s own race disproportionality report, published last autumn, includes statistics on deaths in prison and police custody, but is silent on mental health custody because no statistics exist. 

Seni’s Law will require every mental health hospital to keep a record every time restraint is used against a patient.  For the first time, we will be able to compare hospitals with each other, and see whether some groups – young black men, women, the disabled – are subject to disproportionate levels of force.  Every hospital will have a policy on reducing force, and a named senior manager accountable for its implementation, including training on de-escalation.  The system will be opened up to scrutiny and accountability for the first time. 

If the Bill as proposed is passed, police officers in mental health hospitals will have to wear body cameras.   Every non-natural death will automatically trigger a fully independent investigation with legal aid for the deceased person’s family.  And the Government will publish an annual report summarising inquest findings and how those vital lessons are being learnt. 

Seni’s Law is a major step towards ensuring mental health patients are treated with care and compassion not cruelty, and that the system learns when things go wrong.  It enjoys the support of every professional body, patients’ group and trade union in the mental health sector including the GMB.  The Bill is due for its third reading in the House of Commons in June, and with cross-party support could be on the statute books by the end of the year.  Seni’s parents profound wish is that that their son’s death was not in vain.  Although nothing can bring Seni back, this new law will honour his memory by making sure no one else suffers the way he did. 

Please show your support for Seni’s Law and the campaign for fairness and equality in our mental health services by signing the petition: