Is the Swine Flu pandemic being used to an excuse to expand government powers – UK edition?
Part 3 of this series – disturbing evidence from the UK. The previous chapters were:
(1) What about all the hype, the extreme warnings, about swine flu?, 3 September 2009
(2) Update: about the swine flu epidemic, 9 October 2009
(4) Who to blame for the delay in producing the swine flu vaccine?, 4 November 2009
(5) More about the swine flu pandemic: about Cassandras, 26 November 2009
Today’s reading: Response by The National Council for Civil Liberties to the UK Department of Health’s proposed changes to the Mental Health Act of 1983 with regard to Pandemic Influenza, October 2009 — Excerpt:
(I.) The purpose of the consultation is to ensure the MHA can still operate effectively if the number of medical professional staff is reduced through illness during the swine flu pandemic. It states that the current planning assumptions are for a 10-12% rate of absence from work in the general population in the peak period of the pandemic and states that health and social care organisations as a whole have a high number of staff with childcare and caring responsibilities so the percentage of staff off work could be up to 25%.
No references are given as to where these figures come from. Reference is made to the fact that front line health and social care workers will be offered the swine flu vaccine, yet any reduction in the number of those affected as a result of vaccination is not estimated in the consultation document.
(II.) In particular, the consultation proposes
- reducing from two to one the number of doctors required to approve the involuntary detention and forced treatment of a person
- removing the need for a second opinion doctor before a person is compulsorily medicated.
- In respect of people detained under Part 3 powers, who are in involved in criminal proceedings, it proposes suspending the time limits by which a person is admitted to hospital after a court order or conveyed to hospital etc (proposals are to amend over nine sections).
- allowing people who do not have formal evidence of competency or the completion of training to be approved as those who can make certain orders under the MHA.
(III.) While we understand the Department of Health’s very real concerns about the impact a pandemic could have on our hospitals and the potential gravity of future swine flu outbreaks, we do not believe these proposals have been properly considered.
A comprehensive public consultation response is also now unlikely given that the total consultation period is less than 4 weeks. While we understand the urgency of the perceived threat of swine flu, it is reasonable to imagine that the Government would have been planning contingency measures for a number of years for a pandemic of this sort given there have been other scares in the past (i.e. Bird flu, SARS etc) and that consultation on any such measures would have been published back in June when the pandemic was announced. It is also questionable whether the area of mental health is the only area in which changes like these would be necessary in the event of staff shortages due to the pandemic.
Arguably prison services, police services, immigration facilities, remand centres etc would all be affected, yet as far as we know no proposals for change have been made in respect of these services. We are therefore unclear as to why the operation of the MHA has been singled out and we do not believe that the case has properly been made out to show that temporary measures of the kind proposed here are necessary. No evidence is given as to where the estimate of staff absenteeism comes from and it is not broken down into the relevant staff categories (i.e. doctors, psychologists etc).
(IV.) It is important to recognise the intrusiveness of the powers contained within the MHA. Depriving a person of their liberty and requiring them to undergo medical treatment significantly engages a person’s human rights. …
(V.) We are concerned that this rushed and seemingly ill-thought through proposed measure will have longer term implications that will outlive any swine flu pandemic. The use of such ‘emergency’ measures sets a worrying precedent when linked with NHS staff shortages. …
Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).