Alarm at rise in garda requests to detain people involuntarily in psychiatric care
July 01 2021 02:30 AM UP DATED BY FRED BASSETT
The country’s mental health watchdog has expressed alarm at the rise in applications last year from gardaí to detain people in psychiatric care against their will.
It has prompted John Farrelly, the chief executive of the Mental Health Commission, to seek a meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about the matter, the agency’s annual report says.
It also highlights the use of mechanical restraint on some patients, including a young person, calling it “dehumanising”.
The report revealed that one of the “more alarming aspects of this year’s report relates to people who were detained against their will at in-patient centres”.
“The data from 2020 shows that, for the first time, the highest number of applications to involuntarily detain people came from An Garda Síochána. In all, there were 1,919 admission orders for involuntary detention from the community in 2020, with 32pc of these initiated gardaí.”
Mr Farrelly said: “This is extremely concerning to see and even more so given that it happened during Covid-19 when people who required treatment might have been even more vulnerable and an intervention by gardaí could have led to additional distress.
“Both the expert group that reviewed the 2001 Mental Health Act six years ago, and the current heads of bill to amend the same act recommend that the only person to sign applications for involuntary admission to an in-patient centre should be an authorised officer of the health service.
“The thought process behind this is that it will have the effect of lessening the burden on families and carers, while it will also reduce the involvement of gardaí in the admission process.
“Instead, in every year since 2007, the lowest numbers of applications to detain someone against their will have come from the HSE’s authorised officers.
“It is abundantly clear, therefore, that this part of the act has never been properly implemented and this area needs particular focus and scrutiny ahead of the publication of the amended act.
“We acknowledge that funding and resources will be required, but this investment is imperative as we cannot allow these applications by gardaí to continue.”
Meanwhile, mental health inspector Dr Susan Finnerty expressed her concern about the introduction last year of mechanical restraint as a restrictive practice in services, and even more so given it was used to manage the behaviour of a young person.
The incident in question involved “the use of arm and leg restraints on a young person over a period of months.
“Mechanical restraint is traumatic, counter-therapeutic and dehumanising and has no place in a person-centred, recovery-focused mental health service, let alone in the care and treatment of a young person,” Dr Finnerty added.
It warned the pandemic highlighted the unsuitability of mental health buildings.
Many facilities are suffering from years of neglect and lack of funding, resulting in people with a mental illness living in or receiving treatment in unsuitable, run-down centres.
The report revealed that while physical restraint of patients fell, the number of times patients were secluded grew. Only 61pc of centres complied with seclusion rules.