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Landmark mental health law will protect patients against excessive force after tragic death

A new law restricting and monitoring the use of force against patients in mental health units has today been given royal ascent after an eight-year battle by the family of a young man who died after being excessively restrained.

The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, also known as Seni’s law, was inspired by Olaseni Lewis who died in 2010 after he was restrained by 11 police officers at a mental health ward in Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham.

At the inquest into Seni’s death in 2017, the restraint used was deemed to be “excessive, unreasonable and disproportionate,” and the actions of police and healthcare staff were unanimously condemned.

Seni’s family, along with Mind campaigners, have fought for the laws around use of force to be changed and now the bill, proposed by Corydon North’s MP Steve Reed, will come into effect.

This new law will see a crack down on the force used by police at mental health hospitals, who must actively take steps to reduce force used on patients as well as police being required to wear body cameras when called to mental health settings.

Aji Lewis, Seni’s mother, said: “When Seni became ill, we took him to hospital which we thought was the best place for him.

“We shall always bear the cross of knowing that, instead of the help and care he needed, Seni met with his death.”

Ms Lewis said it took years of struggle to discover what really happened, and that she did not want anyone else to go through the failures at multiple levels amongst the management and staff and the “brute force” of police that her son was forced to go through.

“That is why we have supported this initiative by Steve Reed MP which has culminated today in Seni’s Law.  We welcome it in his memory, in the hope that it proves to be a lasting legacy in his name, so that no other family has to suffer as we have suffered.”

Alongside the steps which must now be taken to reduce the use of force, which includes better training for staff, better data will now be collected and published on how and when physical force is used.

With a 47% rise in the Mental Health Act being used to detain people, Mind declared a “landmark step to improve the safety of people experiencing a mental health crisis,” and said that “it has the potential to put an end to any more devastating and inexcusable deaths, like Seni’s, which should never have happened in the first place.”

The charity’s chief executive Paul Farmer stressed the important of treating those in mental health crisis with “dignity, care and compassion” instead of “humiliating and dehumanising” restraint, and also pointed to the disproportionate rates of detention for those with BAME backgrounds.

Steve Reed MP said: “This new law will save lives and gives mental health patients in the UK some of the best protection in the world from abusive restraint. INQUEST’s support and advice has been critical in getting this change.”

Image credit - Lewis Family website


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