'Excessive' use of face-down restraint in mental health hospitals

Mark Easton
Home editor
@BBCMarkEastonon Twitter

image captionMedical director Tim Kendall in a demonstration of the technique

The government is considering a ban on the use of face-down restraint in English mental health hospitals.

The move follows figures which show the controversial technique being used hundreds of times a year in some trusts - a level described by a health minister as "shocking" and apparently "excessive".

Research by the mental health charity Mind finds that some mental health trusts no longer use face-down restraint because it is considered too dangerous and traumatic.

But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that two mental health trusts employ the procedure two or three times a day.

The Northumberland, Tyne and Wear trust used face-down restraint 923 times in 2011-12. Southern Health trust, based in Southampton, used it 810 times. Between them, the two institutions account for almost half of all the face-down restraint revealed in the figures.

However, a number of the 54 mental health trusts approached were not able to provide figures on restraint despite a statutory requirement to document and review every episode.

Health minister Norman Lamb has said he is "very interested" in "just banning face-down restraint".

media captionNaomi Ball: "You're pinned to the floor face down, you're terrified anyway. It just makes you feel more scared"

"If that is possible, it should be done," he told the BBC. Mr Lamb has also ordered a "specific investigation" into the use of face-down restraint in Northumberland and Southampton.

"I want answers from them about their use of restraint and I want them to address what appears to be a very considerable excessive use of restraint."

In a statement, the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said it only used the safest and most proportionate response when patients posed a risk to themselves or others.

"Due to the specialist nature of a number of our services such as our forensic services, the trust cares for some of the most complex and challenging patients from all over the country, which means that the figures may be higher when comparing to areas without such specialist services."

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust said its staff were "trained to assess each situation and use the most appropriate form of restraint in each case".

"The restraint techniques we use are based on the best evidence available, and are designed to minimise discomfort and distress to patients and also to our staff."

Mental health service user Naomi Ball, from Dudley in the West Midlands, says she has endured physical restraint many times.

"It's totally dehumanising and degrading because all control has been taken away from you. You are pinned to the floor face down, you are terrified anyway, and it just makes you feel more scared," she said.

"You're supposed to be building up trust with the staff, but the way it's done quite often means that that trust is broken completely - and if you're scared and paranoid anyway it just feeds into that and makes it a lot worse."

The mental health charity Mind is calling upon government to "introduce an end to face-down physical restraint in all healthcare settings urgently".

In a report they say it is shocking that there have been 13 restraint-related deaths of people detained under the Mental Health Act since the death of David "Rocky" Bennett in 1998. Eight of those occurred in a single year (2011).

An independent inquiry found that Mr Bennett died as a direct result of prolonged face-down physical restraint and the amount of force used by staff at a medium secure mental health unit.

media captionSheffield Mental Health Trust's Prof Tim Kendall stopped the use of face-down restraint after experiencing it himself

"[It is] unacceptable that successive governments have neglected to take action, failed to establish national standards for the use of physical restraint in England and to introduce accredited training for healthcare staff," said Mind.

Among the English mental health trusts which have banned the use of face-down restraint is Sheffield Health and Social Care. Medical director Professor Tim Kendall is also a member of the committee currently reviewing NHS guidance on the use of restraint.

"We have taken a very determined step to stop using face-down restraint at the trust entirely and we haven't had any problems - none at all," Prof Kendall says.

"It has had a very positive effect and in fact has reduced our use of [other types of] restraint by 50-60%."

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