Good morning, and thank you for allowing me to speak. I am secretary of Psychiatric Rights Scotland.
We desperately need an inquiry into abuse under mental health legislation—the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 and the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003—as there are no other options for survivors. I know people who have been complaining for more than a decade and are still not being listened to.
Abuse happens behind closed doors, in secret. MSPs are—cleverly—not told about it; instead, they are told about other matters such as access to services or stigma. It is not patients but professionals who appear before committees.
There are many types of abuse by professionals on patients, including verbal abuse, false statements on documents and at tribunals, and physical or sexual assaults. The worst types are usually the chemical assaults: getting all those drugs can leave a person unconscious or severely disabled, and can lead to a severe shortening of life or to early death.
In 2012-13, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland was notified that 78 people died while on compulsory treatment. The MWC said that that was an unfortunate side effect of mental illness, but I do not think so—I think that it is the drugs that cause early death.
Over the past eight years, I have been to many meetings and heard people complaining about abuse, but they never get a proper answer. People are not believed; they might be told that they lack insight because of their illness, or that the professional is always right.
No one has ever been charged with the offence of making a false statement on a document, and no one has ever been censured for misleading tribunals. The Mental Welfare Commission never names and shames a professional in its reports. Instead, it deliberately covers up abuse to protect fellow professionals. The General Medical Council in Scotland and the Scottish Social Services Council will just defer to the professionals’ employer, who will not admit errors due to the possibility of having to pay compensation. Organisations fail to investigate abuse properly, and victims are not listened to enough.
Patients do not win civil legal cases either, due to the lack of human rights lawyers and the barriers in the archaic Scottish legal system. The Scottish legal precedents are set up to work against the individual.
Being abused is a horrific experience; patients have described it as being like Auschwitz. Several people have had to flee Scotland to avoid further persecution. Some people have committed suicide, and one person set fire to a psychiatric ward and closed it down because he did not know what else to do.
There are no safeguards to prevent someone from being wrongly detained. There are supposed to be second opinions and advocates, along with the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland and the Mental Welfare Commission and so on, but they nearly always take the side of the professional.
The abusers always deny their actions, and use lawyers to protect them. Cases are time barred. Jimmy Savile got away with abuse in psychiatric settings for decades.
As the committee will know, Hunter Watson lodged petition PE1494 on making the 1984 and 2003 acts human rights compatible. The petition had 286 signatures, and many of those people related their stories of experiences that have not been investigated. Their stories are just the tip of the iceberg; they are the survivors, but many others have died. An inquiry would enable survivors to get the truth and would, I hope, prevent their horrific experiences from happening to others in the future.
If the Government agrees that an inquiry should be held, it might be worth while to clarify in advance the range of actions that might constitute abuse. Witnesses should, whenever practicable, be interviewed by whoever is conducting the inquiry, and there should be no question of relying on written testimony unless it is absolutely necessary.
If the inquiry is not to be led by a judge, those who wish an inquiry to be held should have some say regarding the suitability of those who are invited to conduct the inquiry. We would have no confidence in the ability of certain individuals and organisations to be impartial. The remit of the inquiry should be sufficiently wide to be able to determine in each case how the abuse was allowed to occur. That would make it easier to learn lessons, and hence to make recommendations that might benefit mental health patients in the future. That should be the primary objective of the inquiry, although not necessarily the only objective.
MSPs created the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, which contains no effective safeguards and under which a person has no effective human rights. It was rushed through Parliament with little thought for the consequences, and it came into effect in 2005. I would now like MSPs to make up for that by listening to people’s testimonies, by examining medical notes, tribunal transcripts and court judgments and by allowing people and their families to get justice. Thank you.