Supreme Court makes landmark ruling against National Health Service
Compiled from various sources
submitted by: Alison Leslie – December 2013
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
Twenty-four-year-old Melanie Rabone hanged herself from a tree in Cheshire on 20 April 2005 shortly after being sent home on two-days leave by Stepping Hill Hospital, where she had been admitted as an emergency case following a suicide attempt. Melanie’s parents, Richard and Gillian Rabone, took their case to the Supreme Court after a judge ruled the NHS had no duty under the Human Rights Act to protect their daughter’s life because she had not been detained
See Video : Medical Negligence, Melanie Rabone’s story >
In 2000 Melanie was diagnosed with depression and received medical treatment. On March 4, 2005 she tied a pillow case around her neck and was admitted to Stepping Hill Hospital following an emergency referral by her general practitioner. Three days later she was diagnosed as suffering from a severe episode of a recurrent depressive disorder.
Melanie was subsequently discharged but two weeks later, cut both her wrists with broken glass and agreed to an informal admission. She was prescribed a course of drugs and kept under observation. A ward nurse assessed Melanie as a moderate to high suicide risk.
Her consultant psychiatrist agreed to grant her home leave for two days on 19 April against the wishes of her father, Mr Rabone, who warned the hospital his daughter was not improving and that she should not be allowed home. The next day, she hanged herself.
In February 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that Pennine Care NHS Trust had breached its duty of care to Melanie. The decision was greeted by mental health charities and civil liberties groups as a significant extension to hospitals’ responsibility for protecting all patients, both those detained and those admitted voluntarily.
“Melanie Rabone had a history of depression,” the judgment said. In March 2005 “she cut both of her wrists with broken glass” and was eventually given informal admission to the hospital.
One doctor “noted that, if she attempted or demanded to leave, she should be assessed for detention under the Mental Health Act 1983”. But on 19 April 2005, she was allowed home after requesting leave. Her mother “expressed concern about Melanie coming home for the weekend, but Melanie was keen to do so. On 20 April 2005, Melanie, aged 24, hanged herself from a tree.”
Compensation of £7,500 was paid to Melanie Rabone’s estate in 2009, and the appeal awarded her parents £5,000 each.
Paul Farmer, CEO of MIND, said; “Today, the Supreme Court’s judgement has further strengthened the need for hospitals to treat people with dignity and respect. This case, following the tragic suicide of Melanie Rabone, now makes it clear that hospitals have a positive duty to protect the life of people who are voluntary patients by taking appropriate steps to prevent them taking their own lives.”
In a press release, INQUEST co-director Deborah Coles said the organisation “welcomes the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that psychiatric patients are owed a positive duty of protection under human rights law. This must go hand in hand with an investigation and inquest process that ensures deaths in psychiatric care are independently and robustly scrutinised.”
Jodie Blackstock, of Justice, added; “With all the scepticism currently surrounding the European convention on human rights, this case demonstrates what a vital role it has in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable in society.”
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