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Inquiry led by Warwick professor finds death in detention of hundreds of people with mental health conditions could have been avoided

A new inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, led by University of Warwick Professor Swaran Singh, has found deaths in detention of hundreds of people with mental health conditions could have been avoided.

Repeated basic errors, a failure to learn lessons and a lack of rigorous systems and procedures have contributed to the non-natural deaths of hundreds of people with mental health conditions detained in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and police cells in England and Wales.

The Inquiry covered the period 2010-13, during which 367 adults with mental health conditions died of non-natural causes while detained in psychiatric wards and police cells and another 295 adults died in prison, many of whom had mental health conditions.

The Commission is the first body to examine how the human rights of detainees with mental health conditions are protected across the health, prison and police settings. It’s Inquiry and consulted with organisations including the Care Quality Commission (CQC), Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). Evidence was also gathered from family members.

The Inquiry found failures by institutions to bring in processes to learn from lessons and implement recommendations. As a result, the Commission has, for the first time, created an easy-to-follow Human Rights Framework, aimed at policy makers and front-line staff across all three settings, which includes 12 practical steps to help protect lives.

Professor Swaran Singh, Lead Commissioner on the Inquiry and Head of the Division of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Warwick Medical School said: “Human rights are for all of us and nothing is more fundamental than our right to life. When the state detains people for their own good or the safety of others it has a very high level of responsibility to ensure their life is protected. For people with mental health conditions that is a particular challenge with a large number of tragic cases over the past few years where that responsibility has not been met.

"The Commission, as Great Britain’s National Human Rights Institution carried out this Inquiry, in consultation with other expert bodies, to examine what lessons can be learned how and how to prevent further unnecessary and avoidable harm and heartbreak."

The Commission’s report - 'Preventing Deaths in Detention of Adults with Mental Health Conditions: An Inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission' - can be found at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/legal-and-policy/our-legal-work/inquiries-and-assessments/preventing-deaths-detention-adults-mental-health-conditions