Northern Ireland

Round-the-clock carer wins legal battle for oversight body to be required to scrutinise community-based mental health services

Belfast High Court
Belfast High Court

A Co Antrim man providing care for his vulnerable nephew has won a High Court battle to establish that an oversight body is legally required to scrutinise community-based mental health treatment.

Paul Herbert secured a judicial declaration that the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) does have a statutory duty to keep the provision of services to patients under review.

Mr Herbert and his lawyers described the outcome as a major victory in rectifying an alleged human rights failing which will now benefit thousands of people across Northern Ireland.

He took the case on behalf of his 35-year-old nephew Garerth Waterworth, who suffers from a serious mental health condition compounded by brain injuries he sustained in 2007.

Mr Waterworth had been admitted to care facilities in Belfast due to a suicide risk, but was permitted to leave the unit and walked out onto a main road where he was struck by a bus.

He now lives with his uncle, relying on him for the required 24-hour care and attention. 

With the family dissatisfied at the level of support and treatment provided by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Mr Herbert issued judicial review proceedings against the RQIA for allegedly failing in its role as an independent watchdog.

He claimed the body wrongly asserted it has no legal remit to regulate the provision of mental health services to patients in the community.

Mr Herbert also contended the RQIA is in breach of a duty under Mental Health legislation to

intervene if it appears there may have been a deficiency in the level of care or treatment.

The challenge was due to be heard at the High Court next month, but the RQIA has now conceded it had been misdirected on a point of law.

A senior judicial review judge made an order on Friday to quash its previous assertions.

Mr Justice Colton declared that the RQIA does have a statutory duty to regulate the provision of mental health services to patients in the community by keeping their care and treatment under review.

He further held there is an obligation under the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 to make inquiries into the case of Mr Waterworth and any others where it appears there may be a deficiency in care or treatment.

The outcome is being seen as hugely significant for many vulnerable people in the community. 

Mr Herbert said: “I’ve prayed long and hard that this day would eventually come, but it is just the first round in our long running battle to get the RQIA to do the right thing by my nephew. 

“They need to get to grips with the unacceptable failure to give this long-suffering young man what he’s entitled to.”

Solicitor Michael Clements, of KRW Law, praised his client’s determination in taking the case.

“This is a massive victory, not just for Paul Herbert, but for thousands of other people seeking proper mental health care oversight,” he stated.

“The RQIA have now accepted they were entirely wrong in claiming this was nothing to do with them.”

Mr Clements added: “This is a long overdue human rights failing that's now been rectified. 

“It's now time for the various health agencies to step up and sort a 24-hour care package for Gareth.”