Using the Human Rights Act to support a woman with self-harm history to participate in decisions about her care
A woman who was an inpatient at a mental health hospital in London was very distressed after being told she could not close the door to her room because she was under 24 hour observation. She felt this infringed her right to a private life, protected by the Human Rights Act (Article 8 ECHR).
The woman’s advocate explained to her that in addition to its ordinary duty of care towards her, under the Human Rights Act the hospital had a positive obligation to protect her right to life (Article 2) because she had a history of self-harm including attempted suicide, and that this was why her privacy had been restricted. The advocate also explained that any limitations on the right to respect for her private life must be proportionate to the risk of her harming herself.
Using this information and supported by her advocate, the woman arranged a meeting to discuss these issues with her treatment team. During the meeting, the woman told the treatment team that being under 24 hour observation caused her great anguish. She asked the treatment team to explain why she was under observation, and how long it might be expected to last, which they did.
An agreement was reached that from then on the woman would be able to close the door when using the bathroom, provided she was searched first, the door was unlocked, and the nurse remained outside.
Being given the chance to express her feelings and to discuss and then agree modifications to the observation process gave much needed comfort to the woman. Afterwards she told her advocate that she could now see that the observation process was not a form of punishment, as she had thought, but was instead designed to protect her human rights.
Cambridge House provides advocacy services to people in 14 London boroughs. Our aim is to enable people to become and remain central to the decisions that are made about their life. We encourage and enable people to speak on behalf of themselves, ensuring that their needs are considered, their rights are respected and they receive what they are entitled to.