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40 people go missing from mental health facilities since 2015

40 people go missing from mental health facilities since 2015

Wednesday 09 May 2018

40 people go missing from mental health facilities since 2015

40 people detained under the mental health law have left care facilities at St. Saviour's hospital without permission over the past three years, resulting in over 188 hours of ‘missing person’ searches.

The figures have been released under the Freedom of Information Law, and showed that eight people detained under the mental health law - for their own and other people’s safety - left the facilities without permission in 2015. That jumped up to 21 people absconding in 2016.

The Health Department said it reviewed these incidents and made “the required adjustment according to the specific lessons learned”, which saw the number of incidents drop down to seven people last year, and fewer than five people leaving without permission up until 31 March this year. 

It’s not clear whether those who were reported missing from the facility were admitted to the mental health care unit under Article 6 of the law, where patients can be detained for up to 28 days, Article 7, which keeps people being detained at Orchard House for up to 12 months for treatment, or under Article 4 of the law, classing them as an informal patient, therefore able to leave the ward but not without notifying staff, resulting in police involvement. 

Orchard House

Pictured: An Express FOI request revealed 40 people detained at Orchard House under the Mental Health Law have gone missing from premises since 2015. 

A spokesperson from the Health Department told Express: “The risk of absconding is one factor assessed prior to admission. This assessment will provide an initial indicator of the level of observation and/or containment someone may need in order to remain safe whilst on the unit. 

“Proportionate levels of observation and active engagement are the most effective measure in preventing people leaving the unit without authorisation or permission. Enabling people to understand that their safety and mental health needs are best met on the unit is one of the main goals of the engagement process. When people are able to understand this, the wish to leave is negated.”       

The Health Department confirmed that while the majority of absconding patients were those who had not returned to Orchard House after an authorised release, some happened when patients had their “observation levels” reduced, and they exploited opportunities to abscond. 

A review was undertaken each time this happened, which Health officials said led to a “more robust leave protocol” initiated following the high number of people leaving Orchard House in 2016. 

Orchard House St. Saviours Hospital mental health

Pictured: More than 188 hours of police time have been used to find patients missing from Orchard House since 2015. 

The 40 incidents between January 2015 and 31 March 2018 clocked up 188 hours that patients were reported missing from Orchard House, with police officers having to look for them. 

A Police spokesperson told Express: “If we are called by Orchard House because an individual has absconded or left the property, depending on the situation we do different things. If an individual is under a care order, whereas they have been sectioned under the Mental Health Law and are classed as unlawfully at large, we would return them to Orchard House. Only under certain circumstances would we bring them to PHQ and that would be because either they were drunk, aggressive or violent, or perhaps they had been involved in another incident or they weren’t in a fit state.”

The information released under the Freedom of Information Law stated there is currently a ‘Low Stimulus Unit’, which the Health Department confirmed is a specified extra care facility which can safely manage those at increased clinical risk without impacting the main ward, and this service will be delivered at the new purpose-built mental health facility at Overdale in future.  


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