Wednesday 16 June 2010

Think Again

It is a sign of the times that nobody seems very concerned about the electronic tagging of mental health patients currently being piloted by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (see this link). This idea arose after a homicide where, so far as I can see, the enquiry which followed the patient's absconding while under escort indicated not a faulty procedure but a failure of the Maudsley to follow the agreed procedure. You might have thought that the more reasonable response would be to ensure that the procedure was followed correctly in future rather than to shackle and thereby humiliate patients. It is being emphasised that patients' permission is being sought: but what kind of choice is that for people in the power of their gaolers? Of course a logical case can be made, just as a case can be made for compulsory ID cards, ubiquitous CCTV, universal genetic databases, you name it: but what price liberty and dignity?

But this idea is worse because it singles out some of the most vulnerable people in society whose illness may lead them to feel greater distrust or paranoia about the intentions of those caring for them. It is not going too far to say that if this scheme is adopted it may very well increase risk because it will reinforce the reluctance of many people experiencing psychotic symptoms to seek help - reluctance which results from fear that in seeking help they will not receive comfort and care but rather suffer distrust, compulsion and repression. The Maudsley should think again.