By Zephaniah Samuels 21/09/10
A host of community activists, health campaigners and church leaders have voiced their outrage at the news of the death of a 23 year old student who lost his life after being restrained of by a team of seven police officers on a psychiatric ward in South London.
End use of prone restraint
Olaseni Lewis lost his life on the same day that Colin Holt a 57 year old black service users also suffered fatal injuries after police went to his home on the 31st of August this year.
These deaths have led to calls for an end to the use of prone restraint on mental health service users and for all mental health providers to phase out the use of calling police to deal with internal incidences within psychiatric settings.
‘It is a shock to learn of this young man's death, and my rage is at the fact that it is happening so often. i can't understand in the 21st century how any community can be treated like this, Bishop Llewellyn Graham, Church of God of Prophesy told Black Mental Health UK.
‘The again shows that system is not working. Rather than spending billions on medication investment should be made in devising more humane intervention when dealing with people who need help. We need to come to a place where there is no restraint in the 21st century we should be able to find other techniques which aren't killing people,' Rev Paul Grey, service user activist said.
These recent deaths have again highlighted the urgency of the need to change how black mental health service users are treated.
‘Olaseni Lewis and Colin Holt are sadly just the latest in a long line of service users who have lost their lives in this way. There is a need for a radical shift in how people from our communities are perceived and treated by those who are paid to care for them. We also need to see full accountability when a death occurs before we will see a change in this arena,' Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said.
Masters student in IT and business management
Olaseni, known to his family as Seni, was a second year Masters student studying IT and Business Management at Kingston University. Although he had no prior history of mental illness on Sunday 31st August Seni's family and friends noticed that he was behaving strangely, alternating between calm and agitated phases.
They sought professional help, which resulted in him being admitted as a vulnerable voluntary patient at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham early in the evening of Tuesday 31 August.
Just hours after leaving the hospital Seni was reported to have become agitated and staff called the police to restrain him. Nurses say that they were horrified at the way officers behaved when they arrived.
Up to seven Met officers proceeded to pin Seni down, and it is believed that he then slipped into a coma after his airway became restricted while at the Bethlam Royal Hospital.
The young man was then taken by ambulance to Mayday Hospital and confirmed brain dead on September 3, his life support was turned off the following day.
No officers have been suspended or placed on restricted duties after the incident, and hospital chiefs at Bethlem have confirmed that they are launching a separate inquiry. Nursing staff who witness the incident after calling the police logged the incident as a ‘violent restraint', meaning that they thought that unnecessary forced had been used.
‘I don't understand why you need seven people to restrain one 23 year old young man – if he was ill and animated – give him a sedative or something. The hospital calling the police makes them culpable because if they hadn't called him he'd still be alive,' Deborah Gabriel lecturer and editor of People With Voices said.
‘It is quite tragic that another young black men has been cut down in his prime by the agencies we expect to protect us. We would have hoped with all the resources and time that has been spent on this matter, that these failings in the system would have been addressed by now,' Olu Alake president of 100 Black Men of London said.
Failure to implement Bennett Inquiry recommendations leading to patient deaths
These recent deaths have highlighted the failure of the million pound Delivering Race Equality Programme, which was rolled out in response to the David Bennett Inquiry report. Back in 1998, Bennett sadly lost his life after he was restrained by a team of up to five nurses for over 25 minutes.
Recommendations set out in the Bennett Inquiry report in order to prevent any more tragic deaths of black men detained under the Mental Health Act. They included ensuring that no patient be restrained in the prone position for more than 3 minutes after. Health campaigners question why 12 years after Bennett's death no progress has been made in this area.
‘To hear that anyone in psychiatric care dies as a result of what are supposed to be therapeutic intervention is appalling. The death of Seni Lewis should not have happen in this day and age. Sadly this is price that black people pay for the failure to implement the recommendation of the Rocky Bennett inquiry,' Prof Sashi Sashidaran, consultant psychiatrist and panel member on the David Bennett Inquiry.
‘What is obvious and clear is that nothing has changed since the David Bennett inquiry in reality. We had a similar situation with one of our own service users here in Wolverhampton so we know that this kind of treatment that is resulting in patient deaths. It begs the question, how many others has this happened to that we are not even aware of,' Alicia Spence services director at the African Caribbean Community Initiative (ACCI) said.