BMA concerned over restraint of frail and ill immigrant detainees

The BMA is alarmed by the way frail and seriously ill immigrants at a UK detention centre were restrained during medical treatment.

A recent report by the chief inspector of prisons revealed that a wheelchair-bound detainee at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow Airport was handcuffed on his way to hospital after a stroke.

Another dying man remained handcuffed while sedated and undergoing angioplasty in hospital. The restraints were only removed seven hours after his death.

In a further case, an 84-year-old man who was frail with dementia died while still in handcuffs, after having been kept in them for around five hours. These were only removed once his heart had stopped and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was started.

Health professionals working at detention centres should be prepared to tell authorities to remove restraints, stressed BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson.

“These are shocking cases that must make us all question when and if people should ever be restrained, especially when they are frail and elderly,” Ms. Nathanson said.

The report which was released this month, follows an unannounced visit by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons to the centre and describes these incidents as “grossly excessive use of restraints”.

It states: “A major concern is an inadequate focus on the needs of the most vulnerable detainees, including elderly and sick men, those at risk of self-harm through food refusal, and other people whose physical or mental health conditions made them potentially unfit for detention.”

A spokesperson for the private contractor GEO Group UK Ltd, which runs Harmondsworth, said detainees were not routinely handcuffed when taken out of the centre.

He added: “However, where there is a documented risk of absconding, handcuffs may be used, balanced against a number of factors, including their age. Managers have to use discretion to take difficult decisions and we have issued them with additional guidance.”

The spokesperson said healthcare at the centre was now under a different provider and would eventually be provided by the NHS.

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