Northern Ireland

Muckamore patient loses legal challenge on resettlement

A mental health patient failed today in his High Court challenge to government policies on resettling people with learning disabilities into the community.

The unidentified man, has been a voluntary patient at Muckamore Abbey in Antrim for the last 11 years.

His lawyers claimed the Department of Health was in breach of its duty to make relocation a matter of priority.

But a judge rejected all grounds for judicial review.

The case has implications for 200 people still being kept in learning disability hospitals in NI.

Mr Justice McCloskey dismissed claims that the authorities had neither complied with their duties under health and social care legislation, nor done enough to deliver on expectations raised by policy statements that long-term patients would be resettled.

Freedom

He also held that the department had not breached his right to privacy and right to freedom from discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judge pointed out that the man, who it emerged is now to be resettled, has not been accommodated in a hospital ward for some time and shares independent living facilities with other adults.

He has a reasonable measure of freedom of movement and can pursue a private life with his female partner, albeit subject to certain constraints.

Mr Justice McCloskey said: "There is no suggestion that the development of their relationship has been significantly inhibited."

Delayed discharge

"All in all, I find that the failure of which (he) accuses the department does not interfere with his right to respect for his private life."

Judicial review proceedings were brought to challenge the delayed discharge of patients from Muckamore.

The man's lawyers argued that a target date of 2013 for ensuring none of the 200 learning disability patients remain unnecessarily in hospital will not be met.

Although deemed suitable for release, they cannot be allowed out unless there is suitable accommodation with adequate support for their learning disabilities.

Mr Justice McCloskey noted that in 2007 the department set out targets for a 25% reduction in long stay patients by 2011 and community resettlement for all by 2013.

He said the evidence pointed to the first of these goals having been achieved, while the second does not yet have to be considered.

"True it is that (the applicant patient) is not one of the 25% who have been successfully resettled," the judge said.

"However, in my view, neither he nor any member of this group can assert a substantive legitimate expectation to this effect.

Commitment

"Any such expectation is confounded by the language in which the department's statements were couched."

Dismissing the application for judicial review, Mr Justice McCloskey urged the department to continue efforts to resolve the man's "predicament".

He also called in the patient to be "as flexible, reasonable, and co-operative as possible in this exercise".

Outside court Maura McCallion of the Law Centre, who represented the man, confirmed she would be examining any options for further legal action.

She added: "It's important now that the new Executive renews its commitment to ensure that adults in Northern Ireland no longer have a hospital as a home address."