Unlawful psychiatric detention: patient receives £11,500 in damages

Unlawful mental health detention – the financial consequences.

A new decision provides important guidance on the liability of mental health providers and medical professionals in the difficult area of detaining patients, as well as the ability to recover damages where a claimant is unlawfully detained.

The reported case of PB v Priory Group Ltd follows hot on the heels of the High Court’s award of substantial damages for false imprisonment of a 68 year-old-patient by King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

The Priory Group case

P had attended an out-patient appointment at the Priory Hospital (North London) on 30 September 2016. Within 15 minutes of the appointment, she was detained under section 5(2) Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) and was prevented from leaving, even though she had not been an in-patient who was then attempting to leave (which is a key part of the legislation).

P was prevented from leaving the hospital and her husband was required to provide an immediate down-payment to cover the cost of the bed of £10,626.

P was then admitted, and held for the next 17 days. The first 72 hours were under section 5(2) and then she was subsequently detained under section 2 of the Act. However there was a period of just under seven hours, prior to the section 2 commencing, when the hospital had no authority to detain P. She remained in detention until her discharge on 17 October 2016 by her Responsible Clinician.

The hospital later pursued recovery for outstanding fees in the sum of £3,000 from both P and her husband. It was at this point that they then consulted solicitors. A complaint was raised with the hospital (which was rejected) following which proceedings were brought against the hospital.

P claimed damages for the whole period of her stay for unlawful detention (17 days) at common law alleging breach of Article 5 European Convention on Human Rights. P’s husband claimed restitution of the fees he had paid as well.

The hospital made a Part 36 offer of £11,500 plus legal costs which was accepted on 11 May 2018.   

Comment

This is one of the first reported cases where damages have been awarded for unlawful psychiatric detention. The decision will be of interest to mental health professionals and serve as reminder that, where it can be shown that the claimant has been unlawfully detained and suffered loss, damages are likely to follow.

The Priory case is very different to Bostridge where the claimant had suffered no actual loss because he would have been detained had his illness been correctly managed under section 3 MHA. Against that backdrop, the court concluded that the claimant was not entitled to any more than nominal damages and relied heavily on the cases of Lumba and Kambadzi – much to the relief of mental health providers.

Do get in touch if you require advice in relation to the rules around detention or wider issues in relation to the Mental Health Act, we have a friendly mental health team ready to help.

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