Health watchdog to review use on psychiatric patients

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The Independent Online
A MENTAL health watchdog said yesterday that it would be reviewing the use of CS spray on patients. Concerned about reports of the spray being used, the Mental Health Act Commission said the time was now right for the use to be examined.

The commission said the issue of whether new national guidelines were needed for the use of the spray by the police when dealing with the mentally ill would also be examined.

William Bingley, chief executive of the Mental Health Act Commission, said: "The commission has been alerted to a number of incidents where CS spray has been used in relation to patients with mental health problems.

"There are clear concerns about aspects of its use in these circumstances, some of which the commission shares. The time is right for an informed discussion amongst all interested parties to consider, among other things, whether additional national guidance would be helpful."

It is understood that the commission will take the lead in organising talks which are likely to involve the Department of Health, the police, Home Office and others.

Margaret Pedler, head of legal and policy development of the mental health charity, MIND, said: "We very much welcome this move and we hope very much that we will be invited to be involved in the talks. We have been saying all along that there are concerns and that CS spray is being used in circumstances which we believe to be inappropriate."

Yesterday The Independent revealed that the Police Complaints Authority had confirmed the use of CS gas by police on two mentally ill people, one whom was found hanging when police broke into his loft where he had escaped to, and a second man who jumped through a window after being sprayed and was critically injured.

It was disclosed last week that a team at The Maudsley Hospital in London, one of Britain's leading psychiatric units, had found that CS spray was being regularly used on the mentally ill. In some cases it had been used on hospital premises.

That report says that the police in a number of areas are using the gas to subdue mentally ill patients before taking them to hospital or a clinic. In some cases police have used gas on patients after they have been admitted to NHS premises, say the researchers, who also warn that the hazards of using the gas on people who are already taking anti-psychotic medication are unknown.

One in three of the 100 NHS trusts who took part in the survey reported the use of CS spray on patients brought into hospital by the police or in some cases on hospital premises. Some had even gone to the lengths of acquiring antidotes to CS.