Saturday, 1 April 2017

Nooks & Crannies of the Mental Health Act 1: The Farne Islands (Removal of Lunatics to England & Wales) Regulations 1927

The Mental Health Act has been evolving over centuries. Indeed, the Victorian Lunacy Acts in the 1800’s contained recognisable germs of the current MHA (an example being Sec.136, the origins of which can be found in legislation written over 150 years ago).

The Mental Treatment Act 1930 first introduced the idea of treatment for people with mental disorder, while the MHA 1959 introduced the concept of the Mental Welfare Officer, whose role provided an independent check on doctors having complete control of the detention process.
The MHA 1983 further refined this process of legal protection for people being detained against their will in psychiatric hospitals, and the 2007 Act enshrined subsequent changes in human rights legislation into mental health law.

These Acts, and accompanying regulations and statutory instruments, tended to amend, consolidate or even abolish previous legislation. Sometimes, however, anomalies survived.

The smaller islands of the British Isles are a case in point. The Isle of Man, for instance, with a population of around 81,000, has its own Mental Health Act, which still has Approved Social Workers rather than AMHPs, and Jersey in the Channel Islands its own Mental Health Law going back to 1969.

Part VI of the Mental Health Act consists of almost unreadably tedious regulations covering the removal of mental health patients from one part of the British Isles to another.

But what is almost unknown (and not mentioned at all in the Jones’ Mental Health Act Manual) is the existence of regulations relating to mentally disordered persons in the Farne Islands. This piece of legislation appears to have been forgotten by legislators, with the result that The Farne Islands (Removal of Lunatics to England & Wales) Regulations 1927 was never repealed, and is not even mentioned in Part VI.

The Farne Islands are a group of small islands off the coast of Northumberland in Northern England. They are now owned by the National Trust.

Mainly inhabited by a vast range of seabirds, including puffins, as well as a large colony of seals, in the early part of the century there was still a community of people living permanently on the islands.

This small but tight-knitted group, known disparagingly as “Fannies” by the mainlanders, eked a precarious living by farming seaweed, milking seals to make seal cheese, and taking eggs and any seabirds they could catch using finely woven nets thrown off the top of the guano covered cliffs.
"Fannies" preparing to catch puffins

The Farne Island regulations were created as a result of a notorious incident in 1927 known in the press of the time as the Wellington King.

An aristocrat known as the Honourable Petrus Wimple-Burgoyne developed the delusion that the Farne Islands were the remains of the lost continent of Atlantis, and that as his family originated from Atlantis, he was the rightful king. He started to petition King George VI, challenging him to the throne of the Farne Islands, and demanding that he be invested in Westminster Abbey.

He became such a nuisance that he was eventually committed to a lunatic asylum under the Lunacy Act 1890. However, he got wind of this, and before the ambulance arrived he fled to the Northumberland coast, where he hired a boat at Seahouses and just after dawn on 1st April 1927 he reached the Farne Islands.

He was able to convince the rather credulous and inbred “Fannies” that he was their rightful king, and in a ceremony involving the smearing of the rather oily seal cheese over his entire upper body, an india rubber wellington boot was forced over his head, crowning him the “Wellington King” of the Farne Islands.
The Wellington King

When it was discovered where he was, efforts were immediately commenced to recover him to the mainland. It was at this point that it was realised that there was no legal instrument that could be invoked to lawfully remove him.

An emergency session of Parliament was convened, and so was born the Farne Islands (Removal of Lunatics to England & Wales) Regulations.

Within days, a Naval Frigate sailed to the Farne Islands and a dozen sailors alighted on the island of Inner Farne to apprehend him. Despite the sailors being pelted mercilessly with puffin eggs and foul-smelling lumps of seal cheese by the loyal “Fannies”, the so-called “Wellington King” was seized, and returned to England, where he was placed in St Bernard’s Hospital in Southall, Middlesex.

To this day, the Honourable Petrus Wimple-Burgoyne is the only person for whom this regulation has been used.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Anorexia and the Interface Between the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act: Recent Case Law

There is a growing body of case law relating to the treatment of patients with severe anorexia nervosa. I have discussed previous cases several times on this blog. They include the case of E, the case of X, and the case of W. There has recently been a fourth, the case of Z.

While all have been heard in the Court of Protection, and all involve issues relating to capacity to make decisions about treatment, they also illustrate the extent to which the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act intersect. They highlight the limitations the Mental Health Act may have when dealing with very complex and often intractable mental disorders like anorexia nervosa.

Z is a 46 year old woman. She has had anorexia nervosa since the age of 15 years. The Judge notes: “despite the fact that she has been admitted to hospital on innumerable occasions and received many different treatments, outpatient support and therapeutic input, it is impossible to identify any time in her history where Z has made anything which could be characterised as a sustainable recovery in terms of her weight gain.”

Her physical health has suffered, to the extent that she has osteoporosis “to such a severe degree that her entire skeleton is compromised in a way that would otherwise only be seen in the very elderly”. In October 2016, her Body Mass Index was 9.6 (normal is between 19-25), and in November 2016 she was detained under Sec.3 MHA.

The Trust bringing the case, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, sought a declaration that Z lacked the capacity to make decisions about her care and treatment. This was given in the middle of December 2016, and the Judge concluded that there were three options open to the treating team. These were:
  • “to continue treatment under section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 which would involve detention in hospital and naso-gastric feeding under physical restraint until Z’s weight and physical health improved to the point where it would be possible to discharge her.”
  • “continuation of feeding, again under section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983, involving detention in hospital, but the feeding to take place under chemical sedation”
  • To “be discharged from the framework of the Mental Health Act 1983 and treated, if she is prepared to engage at all, only on a voluntary basis.”

The Judge concluded that the third option should be followed, and that Z would therefore be discharged from detention under Sec.3 MHA and would return to live with her parents.

He noted: “Accordingly, the declarations and orders I make are pursuant to the Mental Capacity Act 2005.  That said, I consider that given this application is heard in the Court of Protection, sitting in the High Court, I would have had the scope to make the declarations under the Inherent Jurisdiction.”

Of other three cases, E, X & W, the Judge reached the same conclusion in the cases of X and W, which was essentially for there to be no forced treatment. Only in the case of E did the Judge advocate continued treatment, and I understand that treatment continued for E under Sec.3 of the Mental Health Act.

So, out of four cases of women with severe anorexia nervosa (and often with complicating conditions such as alcohol dependency and emotionally unstable personality disorder) three were essentially allowed to die. All the cases were deemed to lack the capacity to make decisions about their treatment, and it was concluded that these decisions were in their best interests.

What do these cases have to say about anorexia nervosa, and about the Mental Health Act?

Anorexia nervosa is an insidious and pernicious disorder. It is notoriously hard to treat. Mortality is high, whatever treatment is offered. For patients with anorexia serious enough to require inpatient treatment, less than half experience remission of symptoms after 12 years.

When patients lose weight to the extent that their life is endangered, treatment has to consist initially of ensuring that they gain weight and receive adequate nutrition. This often has to take the form of nasogastric feeding, in other words, inserting nutrition directly into the stomach using a tube. This is an exceptionally intrusive process, and often restraint of various forms has to be used. This is difficult and distressing not just for the patient, but for the doctors and nurses having to administer the treatment.

If the patient refuses to accept lifesaving treatment, the Mental Health Act (Sec.3, for treatment) may have to be used.

In the longer term, the talking treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and cognitive analytic therapy, have the best outcomes. But these therapies can only be given with the consent and cooperation of the patient, and when they are in a reasonable state of physical health.

The Judge in the case of Z stated that “decisions of this nature impose very considerable intellectual and emotional burden on all those involved.” The majority of the decisions in these cases recognised that the clinicians involved with these women had reached a point at which the risks of continuing treatment were not only outweighing the risks of ceasing treatment, but were also causing unjustifiable distress to the patients and their relatives.

I am aware of little equivalent case law relating to other psychiatric disorders. I can only think of the case of C in 2015, a woman diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder who did not wish to continue treatment for the effects of a serious overdose because she had “lost her sparkle”. There was considerable publicity about this case at the time.

It appears that anorexia nervosa is almost unique in producing case law relating to the ending of treatment for the effects of mental disorder. These judgments seem to suggest that there are times when the Mental Health Act should not be used indiscriminately to preserve and prolong life, that when all possible treatments for a mental disorder are exhausted, at least when it comes to anorexia nervosa, such patients should be allowed to die. The treatment becomes worse than the condition, the treatment becomes oppressive and disproportionate, and in breach of the patient’s human rights.

AMHP’s will undoubtedly continue to be asked to make applications for treatment under the MHA for people with anorexia nervosa, but it is important to weigh up the likelihood that proposed treatment is likely to have the desired effect, and will not merely serve to prolong the patient’s suffering and possibly be in breach of the Human Rights Act.

AMHPs will have to continue to be mindful of the psychiatric opinions informing their decisions. But it may be that referral to the Court of Protection for opinions relating to ongoing invasive treatment should sometimes be considered in preference to the Mental Health Act.

Either way, these are not easy decisions to make.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 – Implications for the Mental Health Act and AMHPs


The Policing and Crime Bill is likely to become law in April 2017. So what, you may ask? This is surely about policing and crime. What does it have to do with the Mental Health Act?

Well, it’s true that this new piece of legislation covers a wide range of matters, including police complaints procedures, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and Maritime enforcement, but it is also concerned with changes to police powers, and this is where there are significant implications for AMHPs (and the police, of course).

For the second time in 3 years, the Mental Health Act 1983 will have some significant amendments. The last time this happened was with the Care Act 2014, which among other things, amended Sec.117. Now, Sections 81-84 of the Police and Crime Act will significantly amend Sec.135 and Sec.136 MHA, which of course relate to police powers relating to people with mental disorders.

Reduction of period of detention
One of the most significant changes is to reduce the period of detention of people under both Sec.135, which is concerned with entering the premises of mentally disordered people in order to be assessed and removed to a place of safety, and Sec.136, which is concerned with police powers to remove people from public places.

Ever since the Mental Health Act 1983 came into force 32 years ago, the maximum period of detention has been 72 hours. This will be cut to 24 hours. In exceptional circumstances a medical practitioner can extend this by another 12 hours to a maximum of 36 hours. But that’s it.

This seems likely to create significant problems for mental health services who, despite Theresa May’s recent promises to improve services for people with mental health problems, are grossly underfunded, and likely to remain so, whatever the Prime Minister says.

It has become a not uncommon situation for there to be considerable delays in finding a bed for a patient who has been assessed under Sec.136. While it has always been exceptional for Sec.136 to last the maximum allowed time of 72 hours, it’s far from unknown for a Sec.136 to last for more than 24 hours, especially if there has been a delay in assessment, for instance because a patient was unfit for interview through drink or drugs, or if a patient was detained out of normal working hours.

What will happen if a bed has still not been found after 24 hours? Mental Health Trusts are simply going to have to ensure that sufficient beds are available.

“Public places” and “places of safety”
There are also some intriguing changes and clarifications to the existing MHA. For example, under the amended Sec.136, a police officer may “if the person is already at a place of safety within the meaning of that section, keep the person at that place”.

The new amendments also clarify the meaning of “public place” for the purposes of the Mental Health Act. While it does not exactly define what a public place is, it specifies that a police officer can exercise their powers under Sec.136 “at any place”, the explicit exceptions being “any house, flat or room where that person, or any other person, is living,” or “any yard, garden, garage or outhouse that is used in connection with the house, flat or room, other than one that is also used in connection with one or more other houses, flats or rooms.”

This might mean that there will be fewer arguments about what may constitute a public place, since powers will essentially be able to be exercised “at any place”. However, it also leaves the question of what constitutes a “place of safety” rather vague.

It would appear that someone could be detained in an A&E department of a hospital, or in a care home, for example, and the police officer can then keep them there in order to be assessed, as these might constitute places of safety.

Children detained under Sec.136
The Policing and Crime Act inserts a new Sec.136A, which principally states that “a child may not… be removed to, kept at or taken to a place of safety that is a police station.”

It would therefore not only be extremely undesirable for a child under the age of 18 to be detained in a police station, but actually illegal.

This is a logical development of the longstanding intention that nobody detained under Sec.136 should be detained in police cells, and most places now have sufficient designated Sec.136 suites to make it extremely unlikely for anyone, adult or child, to be detained elsewhere.

The most recent statistics for use of Sec.136, taken from Uses of the Mental Health Act: Annual Statistics, 2015/16 (November 2016), show a drastic reduction in the use of police cells. Let’s hope a consequence is that police cells are never used for anyone detained under Sec.136 in future.


Police consultation before using Sec.136
One final interesting amendment is that before exercising powers under Sec.136 a police officer “if it is practicable to do so” must consult a doctor, a registered nurse, an AMHP, or “a person of a description specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State” whoever that may be.

It is difficult to see quite how “practicable” this consultation might be, since a police officer may be dealing with a very fraught crisis situation with a mentally disordered person in a very public place, such as a town centre or a multi storey car park, and may have to take drastic action immediately to prevent serious harm.

Many police forces now have some sort of triaging process, for instance, having a mental health nurse physically based in a police control room, so it may be not be totally impracticable to gain instant advice, but it is likely to be a lot more difficult to get into contact with a doctor or AMHP within an acceptable time scale.


As these changes are almost certainly going to be in force within 3 months, mental health services are going to have to have robust contingency plans in place pretty quickly.