Mental Health Patient's Family to Test Law on Cost of Care

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), December 6, 2001 | Go to article overview

Mental Health Patient's Family to Test Law on Cost of Care


Byline: S by RICHARD SHERRIFF

THE family of an elderly man taken from his home and into mental health care plans to take legal action to settle who must pay for his care.

May Shaw said she was prepared to go to court to test a law which could make the local health trust liable for the care of her 94-year-old uncle, Thomas Shaw.

If successful, such a case could have huge implications for health trusts here but Mrs Shaw said the issue for her was a point of principle.

"They took him from the house when he didn't want to leave and now I don't see why he should have to sell his home to pay for care he doesn't want," she told the News Letter.

The case highlights the growing anger at the cost of care for the elderly and, even though Finance Minister Mark Durkan has announced some concessions in the forthcoming budget, older people in Northern Ireland still face huge personal costs for their care.

Mr Shaw is being cared for at Tardree House, part of the Holywell psychiatric hospital at Antrim, but Mrs Shaw has been told of plans to move him to a home for the elderly mentally infirm (EMI) and has been told that he will be expected to meet the cost.

She wants to make a legal challenge to test the 1986 Mental Health Order for Northern Ireland after discovering that the equivalent law in England and Wales forbids health authorities from charging for aftercare if the person concerned has been treated under the 1983 Mental Health Act.

"We tried to get extra help to try and keep him in the house but we were told that was impossible. He bought that house when he sold his business and retired. There's a lifetime's work there and I don't see why he should have to give it up," Mrs Shaw said.

It is understood that no challenge has so far been made to the order and yesterday Mrs Shaw's stance was backed by the Law Centre in Belfast, where community care legal adviser Maura McCallion said the issue was worth testing.

"The current position, where people who have been detained under the mental health legislation in England receive free aftercare whereas those in the same position in Northern Ireland pay for their care, is unjust and needs to be addressed.

Northern Ireland is now the only part of the United Kingdom where the elderly are expected to meet the full cost of residential care and the group Right To Care is putting pressure on MPs and MLAs to address the inequality.

As a member of the steering group, Ms McCallion said Mr Shaw's case was part of the wider issue facing older people.

"The Right To Care campaign believes that everyone should have free nursing and personal care when they need it."

Neither the Causeway Health and Social Services Trust nor the Homefirst Community Trust, both of which have been involved in Mr Shaw's care, were inclined to comment on the case. However, Mrs Shaw is due to meet representatives from the Homefirst Trust today to discuss the case.

Treatment raises rights questions, says STEER man

ASIDE from the issues surrounding care for older people, the case of Thomas Shaw raises fundamental questions about human rights, an expert has claimed.

John James is an experienced volunteer with Londonderry mental health group STEER and lives with mental illness himself.

Recently, in a News Letter article, he explained the group's concerns over provision for people with mental illness in the context of the forthcoming Human Rights Bill.

STEER's contribution to the Human Rights Commission contained five main recommendations on various issues, including the procedure surrounding sectioning.

"We do find that a number of people are sectioned because of their symptoms which may be socially embarrassing or they may be a nuisance.

"We have found evidence of this in the past and sectioning has been inappropriately applied in some instances. …

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