7daysofaction – The ATU Empire Strikes Back


There’s a clip toward the end of the second Star Wars film where Luke Skywalker (the goodie) discovers that his father is Darth Vader (the baddie). Darth then goes on to prove how evil he is by chopping off his son’s hand and having his revenge on the Rebel Insurgency for blowing up the Death Star.

I don’t think it’s pushing the comparison too far to say that many of the families campaigning to get their sons and daughters out of in-patient provision, see themselves as a bit of a Rebel Insurgency. For them the power of the institution, the Registered Manager and the Responsible Clinician is dark, unresponsive and omnipresent. It is a power that is sustained by legislation that was drafted over thirty years ago, when the word of a clinician was something akin to truth. When their opinions and status were absolute and unchallengeable.

Today the world knows differently. We know that the word of a Responsible Clinician is simply an opinion. It may be educated and informed; it may be based upon experience and it may be based upon the best of intentions, but ultimately it is one person’s judgement.  But it is a judgement that can dictate the course of a person’s life and liberty and it’s not surprising that so many of the families that we talk to live in genuine fear of them and the institutions that they work for.

They are scared and yesterday we were reminded why.

One of the parents’ who has shared their story with us, found out that their son had been involved in some sort of incident at the unit; he had been injured and had then been taken to A&E. However, the parent, who by the way is the young man’s nearest relative, wasn’t informed for another 10 days and as far as I am aware there was no involvement of an Independent Mental Health Advocate either. The unit would appear to have taken the decision that they were justified in withholding the details of this incident from the parent because the parent had publicly campaigned for their son’s release and had publicly challenged the way in which things are progressing.

In justifying their decision, they will probably have argued that they have a responsibility to protect the young man’s privacy and they will have wrapped that justification in the language of the Data Protection and Mental Capacity Acts. It will not matter to them that inappropriate use of that legislation can create situations that leave our people isolated and vulnerable to “risk of harm and abuse”.

The decisions to publish the stories that we do are not done lightly. We try and balance the right to liberty with the right to privacy. We acknowledge that for some of our people the journey back to their community is a challenging one and that ultimately it is a journey that families and practitioner’s must work together to facilitate. Despite the age of the legislation and its inherent flaws – we believe that if practitioners work in the spirit of the overarching principles of the MHA, as outlined in the Code of Practice 2015, then families wouldn’t need to campaign as they do and they wouldn’t need to live in fear of the seemingly arbitrary power of Responsible Clinicians and Registered Managers. For those of you who don’t know. Practitioners providing services under the Act are expected to adopt the least restrictive option and maximise independence; they are expected to empower and involve patients and their families; treat them with respect and dignity; and they are expected to have a purpose, be effective and work efficiently with others to support a “timely, safe and efficient discharge from detention”. Nowhere does it state that these principles are suspended if we challenge your practice.

There are undoubtedly some practitioners who see 7daysofaction as a threat to the current order and the way that they believe that things should be done. And as the powerful do they will be inclined to misuse their power to protect their primacy and status, and on occasions, such as these, they will use it against us. But they might want to reflect upon a simple fact –  in a way they are our father and we are the child of their poor practice without which we wouldn’t exist.