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Ministers blamed over mental health death

Exclusive by Matilda MacAttram

A MENTALLY ill patient who died after being restrained last month might still be alive today if government guidelines on restraint had been agreed, experts believe

Justice for Rocky Bennett banner
David ‘Rocky’ Bennett: death led to inquiry

Twenty nurses are being interviewed by police after psychiatric patient Azrar Ayub, 24, died on 28 May after being restrained by staff at the secure Edenfield Unit at Prestwich hospital near Manchester.

His death came three months after health ministers promised to bring in new guidelines on restraint following publication of the inquiry report into the death of David ‘Rocky’ Bennett.

In February Health Secretary Dr John Reid said the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) – an arms-length NHS agency – would be producing new restraint procedures. But mental health experts are concerned that restraint guidelines, which might have prevented the death of Ayub, have not yet appeared.

Dr Joanna Bennett, sister of Rocky Bennett and a mental health lecturer, said the latest death showed little had been learnt since her brother died in a Norwich mental health secure unit in October 1998.

She told Blink: “This is tragic and very disturbing. It should hopefully serve as a wake up call to the government to do something quickly to make sure no other lives are
lost in this way.

“We are still waiting for the NICE guidelines to be implemented on control and restraint. Once they are agreed it could take up to another 18 months to implement. Since Rocky died I know of two people who have died like this.”

political will

Dr Richard Stone, a member of the Bennett inquiry panel said: “It only needs a directive from the Department of Health to make a nation wide ruling to say no one can be held face down for more than three minutes but there needs to be the political will.”

John Reid
John Reid: cold shoulder

Health ministers were accused of giving the Bennett inquiry the cold shoulder in February, after Dr Reid ignored the reports’ recommendations in his Commons statement. Ministers have also refused to acknowledge that the NHS is ‘institutionally racist’.

Ayub’s brother, Sarfraz, told a local newspaper that he felt the family had been denied information concerning the death. He said: “I was shocked when I saw his body, he was
really badly bruised. Something has gone wrong somewhere. No one is telling
us anything.”

On the night of Ayub’s death Sarfraz went to the unit to visit him but was refused entry after being told that his brother was ill. Four hours later, at midnight, the hospital called him to tell him that his brother had been pronounced dead. Dr Bennett commented: “It reminds me of the shoddy way our family was treated when Rocky died.”

Ayub was restrained by hospital staff who claim that he had become violent. They sedated him and then left in an isolated room. Staff say they then went to check on him but found he had collapsed and could not be revived.

‘no compassion’

Full details of the incident have so far not been released, but a spokeswoman for the Bolton, Salford and Trafford Mental Health Services NHS Trust, responsible for Preswich Hospital, said they would be assisting the police with their inquiries.

  It should serve as a wake up call to the government to do something quickly to make sure no other lives are lost in this way
Dr Joanna Bennett

Reacting to Ayub’s death, Alicia Spence, manager for African Caribbean Community Initiative, a mental health organisation, said: “It just beggars belief. In light of all the publicity surrounding so many recent reports into the bad treatment of BME patients
and the publication of the Rocky Bennett report I am shocked that something
like this can happen so soon after it was published.

“It just goes to show that it's business as usual and nothing has changed. The sad thing is there will be many more cases like this because there is no compassion in this service.

“'There are people who feel that they have a God-given right to do the most heinous things and think that they will get away with it. The people responsible for Rocky
and Azrar's deaths are walking free, but for their families this kind of tragedy is like a life sentence.”

The victim’s family have demanded a post mortem be carried out, and have enlisted solicitor Imran Khan, who represented the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

The police are investigating Ayub’s death and have confirmed that they have interviewed most of the twenty nurses over his death. Once their investigation is completed is will be passed to the coroner, the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service. Azrar was detained under the Mental Health Act in 200 after being convicted of rape.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton told Blink: “We want to make it clear that racism has absolutely no place in the NHS. In order to make we eradicate this we are working on all the reports that have come out in recent years.” But Labour MP Helen Clark said she was outraged at yet another mental health death. She plans to raise the issue in the House of Commons.

Mental health expert Professor Sashi Sashiaran expressed scepticism over the government's political will to make changes which would prevent future tragedies. Speaking at a Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health reception marking the 2nd anniversary of the 'Cycles of Fear' report yesterday, he said: “I don't think that the Department of Health has any interest in bringing to light what happens in our mental health wards. The way members of our community have to fight to get any kind of response for the system should be a lesson to all of us.”

Angela Greatley, Director of Policy and Research at the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, commented: “Even the police and prison service have a better record on the treatment of people in custody than mental health services do at the moment.”

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