Mental health law campaigner vows to carry on in spite of HSE review

Kathleen Lynch
Kathleen Lynch, minister of state for mental health

A campaigner for mental health law reform has said she will continue to argue for changes to the Mental Health Act 2001, despite a report concluding the death of her husband was not preventable.

Una Butler, whose family was torn apart when her husband ended his life and those of their two children in 2010, said she was not satisfied with the conclusions of a Health Service Executive (HSE) review into her husband’s case.

Ms Butler’s husband had depression and was discharged from HSE care less than three months before his death.

Ms Butler received the findings of the HSE review into his death last week.

Since the incident, Ms Butler has called for legislative changes that would give families greater involvement in the care of someone with a mental illness.

However, mental health minister Kathleen Lynch said an expert group examining the Act had already concluded that its provisions around family involvement should not be changed.

The Expert Group on the Review of the Mental Health Act 2011 was specifically asked by Ms Lynch, in the aftermath of Mr Butler’s death, to consider whether mental health legislation should be amended to “require health professionals to consult with the family of persons with mental health problems”.

Its final report, published in March, states: “While there was agreement among members of the Expert Group that this is an important issue that requires further examination, nonetheless there was a consensus that it would not be appropriate to amend primary legislation as requested.”

The report also points out that doctors can already ethically breach confidentiality if they believe a patient is at risk of harming themselves or others.

However, Ms Butler told the Irish Examiner: “I’ve made a submission for changes to the Mental Health Act 2001, for legislation to be changed to involve partners, or close family members in the care of a person with mental illness.

“Since 2006, there has been a document called A Vision For Change which highlights that greater involvement of family members and carers is recommended but still nothing has been done.

“It cannot continue like this and if it does, I believe that there will be another tragedy.”

She added: “Regardless of the outcome of the review, I think the common-sense approach is for greater involvement of family members.”

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