The government needs to rethink its plan to exclude sectioned mental health patients from the protection of the Corporate Manslaughter Act for up to five years.
The act, which came into force in April, makes it easier to prosecute trusts over avoidable deaths. But two groups of vulnerable people - prisoners and sectioned patients - face a wait of several years before they enjoy the same protection.
The greatest pressure for delay has not come from either mental health providers or the Department of Health. Both recognised the challenges sectioned patients presented under the act - figures from 2006 indicate around half of mental health inpatient suicides involved people who had been sectioned - but the DH and trusts were nonetheless willing to include these patients much more rapidly.
It is the Home Office that wanted them kept out, as they were lumped together with prisoners, and ministers feared a flood of claims over deaths in custody.
It is an unedifying spectacle to see a government department kick rights for vulnerable people into the long grass for the sake of administrative convenience. But a review of the implementation of the legislation being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice presents an opportunity to speed up the process. The DH should bring pressure to bear to have this shortcoming rectified.
Watch HSJ's webinar on the Corporate Manslaughter Act.