11 August, 2013

Hospital aftercare

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about psychiatric hospitals and what it is like visiting a relative who is detained there.

Something else that we have become familiar with over the past few months is the after care that people receive once they are released from psychiatric hospital. This support is (predictably, I suppose, given the strain that the NHS is currently under) pretty minimal.

Our relative was released from hospital, but was still detained under the Mental Health Act. This meant that they were obligated by law to take the medication prescribed by their psychiatrist and to comply with any request to attend out patient clinics or indeed to return to hospital.

But the only support or monitoring they received was one visit per week from a psychiatric nurse. And when it was half term and the nurse was on holiday, our relative received no visit at all. Shortly afterwards, our relative was discharged from detention under the Mental Health Act.

Interestingly, our relative reduced the medication that they were taking as soon as they were released from hospital and stopped taking it altogether within a few days of being at home. This was obvious to us and so was surely obvious to the mental health experts as well. But it seemed to make no difference. Our relative was still discharged from detention under the Mental Health Act on the understanding that they would continue to take their medication -- even though they had already stopped taking it when they were still obligated by law to do so!

This is obviously a very difficult area to manage. It's all about balancing the safety of the public against the liberty and rights of the patient. I don't think our relative ever posed much of a threat to the public, but clearly some people with severe mental health issues do. And, given our experience of care and support following release from hospital, it's not surprising that sometimes poor judgements are made and tragic consequences result.


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