Parents of man who died after police restraint challenge delay over Seni’s law (The Guardian)

Aji and Conrad Lewis are urging mental health minister to ensure 2018 act takes effect

Ajibola Lewis

The parents of a young black man who died after being restrained in a mental health hospital are asking why a law passed in his name almost two years ago has not yet been enacted by the government.

Aji and Conrad Lewis, alongside other campaigners, have signed a letter to the mental health minister, Nadine Dorries, calling for the government to set a commencement date for the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018.

The act, known as Seni’s law after their son, Olaseni, was introduced as a private member’s bill by the Labour MP Steve Reed. It requires mental healthcare providers to keep records of the use of force, and to train staff in de-escalation techniques to help reduce the use of restraint.

It is also intended to improve transparency and accountability, with every mental health unit having to publish its policy on the use of restraint, keep a record of occasions on which it is used, and designate one person who is responsible for implementing the policy. Police officers who attend mental health settings will have to wear body cameras.Advertisement

Olaseni, who was 23, died in 2010 soon after he was subjected to what an inquest described as “disproportionate and unreasonable” restraint at Bethlem Royal hospital in London involving 11 police officers.

His mother said at the time the law was passed: “It took us years of struggle to find out what happened to Seni: the failures at multiple levels amongst the management and staff at Bethlem Royal hospital, where, instead of looking after him, they called the police to deal with him.

“We welcome the law in his memory, in the hope that it proves to be a lasting legacy in his name, so that no other family has to suffer as we have suffered.”

The letter to Dorries, calling on her to enact the legislation urgently, has also been signed by several charity leaders, including Paul Farmer of the mental health charity Mind and Emma Thomas of YoungMinds.

Reed, who was a backbench MP when he brought in the private member’s bill and is now the shadow communities secretary, said: “The legislation I introduced to tackle dangerous restraint used disproportionately against young black men has been in place for 20 months, but it still hasn’t come into force.

“The government simply needs to set a commencement date, something that usually takes just weeks. We can’t wait any longer. Either this legislation matters to the government or it doesn’t. Ministers must bring Seni’s law into force without further delay.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Mental health services will continue to expand further and faster thanks to a minimum £2.3bn of extra investment a year by 2023/24 as part of the NHS long-term [plan].

“The government was fully supportive throughout the passage of the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act and is committed to publishing statutory guidance on the act for consultation as soon as possible.”