Patients subject to CTOs at 31 March 2012, by gender and by year
Community Treatment Orders were introduced into the MHA 1983 by the 2007 amendments. The Code of Practice (25.2) states that: “The purpose of SCT is to allow suitable patients to be safely treated in the community rather than under detention in hospital, and to provide a way to help prevent relapse and any harm – to the patient or to others – that this might cause. It is intended to help patients to maintain stable mental health outside hospital and to promote recovery.”
The intention of Parliament was for CTO’s (or Supervised Community Treatment) to prevent “revolving door” patients – that is, people with severe and enduring mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorder who would tend to become unwell, require hospital admission , recover and be discharged on medication, which they would then stop taking, leading to relapse and further acute admission.
Since this part of the Act came into force in 2008, CTO’s have become increasingly popular. The report on use of the MHA for 2010-11 reported: “The number of people on CTOs at the end of the year rose, even though the number of new CTOs made during the year reduced. This was due to the number of new orders made being greater than the number of orders from which people were discharged: 3,834 new CTOs were made in 2010/11 and 2,185 orders were closed.”
The data for 2011-12 shows that “there were a total of 4,220 uses of community treatment orders (CTOs) across the NHS and independent sector. This represents a 10 per cent increase from 3,834 in 2010/11.” The latest report said that the statistic suggest “that there were 6,964 CTOs in place at the end of the 2011/12”.
The main reason for this would appear to be that people on CTO’s frequently get them extended.
Typically, what happens is this: a patient is detained in hospital under Sec.3 MHA for treatment. When they are ready for discharge, consideration is given for them to be discharged under Supervised Community Treatment (SCT) and they would then be on a CTO. Although the patient’s psychiatrist is responsible for making an Order, an AMHP has to endorse this.
The first period of SCT lasts for 6 months. Towards the end of this period, the patient’s psychiatrist reviews the effectiveness of the CTO in keeping the patient well and out of hospital, and considers the need to extend it. An AMHP also has to endorse any extension. The first period of extension lasts for another 6 months. If the CTO is extended again, the period lasts for 1 year, and each subsequent extension will be for 1 year.
Patients on CTO’s rarely appeal against either the initial CTO, or subsequent extensions. In fact, in my experience, they often want nothing to do with the Tribunal or Manager’s Hearing which can be automatically triggered by a discharge of a CTO or an extension. Some of them have even told me that they feel safer knowing that they are on a CTO. I guess they feel that they are less likely to be abandoned by mental health services.
This often leads to strange Tribunals, where only the Community Responsible Clinician and an AMHP or care coordinator are present.
The difficulty with this system is that it is much easier to make a decision to extend the CTO, than to discharge it or let it lapse. After all, if the patient has complied with the conditions of the CTO, which are generally that they should see their care coordinator and community responsible clinician and that they should take their prescribed medication, and they have remained out of hospital, then that is surely evidence that the CTO is working, and therefore should continue. Isn’t it?
Andy is a man with bipolar affective disorder. I have been his care coordinator for over 4 years. Andy does not like taking medication, and has little insight into his mental illness. His view is that if he is well, then he obviously does not need to take medication, as that is only for people who are unwell. Consequently, when he is discharged from hospital well, he will very quickly stop taking his medication. He then becomes acutely unwell, and is soon detained under Sec.3 MHA again.
Not only does he become acutely and distressingly unwell, but his behaviour becomes very reckless and dangerous, and he invariably comes to the attention of the police. In the past, he has hijacked vehicles, threatened people with knives, and damaged property.
In the year prior to his being placed on a CTO, Andy had three acute hospital admissions, all via the police, and all under the MHA. His behaviour was often so unmanageable on an acute ward that he would need a period of time in a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). His wife was at the end of her tether and was considering leaving him. It was decided that he would be given depot medication by injection once a fortnight and was discharged under a CTO.
Towards the end of the first 6 months we reviewed him. During that time, Andy had complied with all the conditions of the CTO, especially the condition that he attended for his fortnightly injection. During that time, he had committed no offences and had not had any relapses. His wife said that she was pleased with his stability overall, but expressed concern about his sedation. However, Andy said he was completely satisfied with the medication regime and did not want any changes. Nevertheless, in view of the serious consequences not treating his mental illness in the past, we decided that it was appropriate to extend his CTO for a further 6 months.
We reviewed the CTO again a few weeks before it was due to lapse. There had been no problems or any evidence of relapse during that period, and Andy again said he was happy with his medication. However, his wife said that she was still concerned by his lack of motivation, complaining that he spent most of the day in bad and was reluctant to leave the house or socialize.
It was decided to change his depot medication to see if that improved these side effects. In view of this change, it was also decided to extend the CTO again, this time for 12 months.
We reviewed Alan a few days ago. Things were much the same – he was still happily attending for his injection, he had not been in any trouble, and he appeared to be free of the grandiose and aggressive symptoms that had troubled him in the past. However, his wife was still complaining about his lethargy and complete lack of any motivation.
I was concerned about this situation. What was the best thing to do? Should we stop his medication altogether? Should we stop the injection, but try him on oral medication, which could not be given by injection? By now, he had been out of hospital and mentally stable for 2 years. Should we discharge the CTO? Should we allow the risk of relapse, on the basis that his quality of life appeared to be seriously impaired?
We knew that he would still be unlikely to take oral medication, and if it was his sole medication, he would be at almost inevitable risk of relapse. In the end, it was decided that he would be prescribed an oral mood stabiliser in addition to the injection to see if that had an effect on his overall presentation.
Because of this further change in medication, it was also decided to extend the CTO, the consequence of which was that by the time of the next review, he would have been on a CTO continually for 3 years. I didn’t feel very comfortable about this decision, but was reluctant to disagree with the recommendation of his psychiatrist, and equally reluctant to risk a repetition of his behaviour when unwell.
The question remains: when could it be considered worth risking the relapse of a patient who has remained stable on a CTO?
I don’t have an answer to that.