According to Wikipedia, Ambulance chasing is a professional slur which refers to a lawyer soliciting for clients at a disaster site. The term “ambulance chasing” comes from the stereotype of lawyers that follow ambulances to Accident and Emergency departments (A&E) to find clients. So you wouldn’t expect to see Ambulance chasers on a mental health ward, right?
Wrong! Very early on in my mental health nursing career, working on an acute in-patient ward, I noticed on ward round days (when there was dozens of people i.e. professionals, family and friends waiting to be seen) there were a few suited men hanging around. Every now and again I’d see one of these men approach a patient, smiling and shaking hands, engaging in often lengthy conversations. I asked my colleagues who they were and was told “They’re probably here for patients’ ward rounds.” so I watched as they continued chatting to various patients.
However, week after week, these same men were arriving on the wards, let in by staff who repeated “They’re here for ward round.” But that didn’t explain who they were and I never actually saw them go into ward rounds, with or without patients. One ward round day, the next time the doorbell rang I almost ran to let in another suited guy and asked “How can I help you?”
“Oh. Err, I’m here to see…….” and he rummaged through his diary “Er….. Peter Farrell. Is he still on the ward?”
“Yes, he is. Who shall I say you are?”
“My name is Baba Chideke. I am his solicitor.”
Okaaay, I went off to get Peter and had to wake him to tell him his solicitor was here. In response he muttered he didn’t have a solicitor. “Oh, so why do you think he’s here Pete?”
“I Dunno,” grunted Pete as he turned and went back to sleep, unhappy because I’d woken him. I returned to speak with the solicitor to find him with his back to me, shaking hands and chatting with another patient. I stood for a few seconds to hear him urging “Look, I can help you. You’re on Section 3 of the MHA 1983 (1), yes?” You can appeal against this, you know. I can be your solicitor.”
“Nah, mate,” growled Anthony. “I’ve only just come on the ward innit. I don’t f*cking want no appeal. Now f*ck off and leave me alone.” Oops!
That left Mr solicitor standing forlornly, looking around for someone else to jump on.”Anyone else on Section nurse?” he demanded. “I am here to represent the people.”
“I think if these people wanted or needed help and knew you were a solicitor they would come to you, no?”
“Perhaps they don’t know their rights. I can help them.” he asserted.
“In accordance with the Mental Health Act, all our patients are read their rights and given a copy when they arrive on the ward and they’re reminded again the next day and the next…… until they feel ready to sign them to show that they understand their rights.”
“Are you Manager of the ward, no? Are you in charge? I need to speak to someone more higher than you.”
“Yes, I am in charge today and I’m asking you to leave,” and I walked towards the door to show him out.
“I am going to report you to the appeal panel (2). I am here to look after the people and you try to stop me.”
“Okay,” I smiled and showed him my badge, “here’s my name.” And he stomped off.
I spoke to my manager who told me they’re harmless, they just want to do their job. “Yes, but they’re always here, about 3-4 every week, harassing patients and hanging around like vultures,” I ventured, knowing he’d snap at me anyway.
“Why do you care? It makes no difference to you,”
“It does make a difference. There’s enough people here on ward round days. It’s unsettling for the patients and even their families complain that they’re intimidating. We’ve got enough to do without vetting solicitors too and if patients wanted a solicitor, there’s a list on the wall and they can ask us or Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS).”
“Oh, just leave it!” he barked, “just leave it, will you?” He should have known that I wouldn’t. I later spoke to his boss, the Modern Matron, and repeated our conversation. “Och, dinnae worry. They’re no problem and it save patients looking for a solicitor, eh?” he quipped. Why was no one taking this seriously?
I eventually spoke with our Clinical Nurse Lead about the constant flow of Solicitors baiting our patients and the fact that my concerns were being ignored. Thankfully she agreed that they were a nuisance and she had them banned from the hospital forthwith.
I really do appreciate the need for solicitors for patients on Section of the Mental Health Act 1983. Indeed, First4lawyers wrote that people with mental health issues are often a lot more vulnerable and need different levels of care and treatment.
First4Lawyers state that failure of medical and psychiatric care providers to ensure reasonable safety and wellbeing could result in a medical negligence claim, including:
- Inadequate staffing within a mental health facility/hospital
- Failure to provide a safe environment
- Excessive delays in referral for mental health treatment
- Mental health issues being misdiagnosed as another illness
- Unreasonable force used to detain someone with mental health issues
- A traumatic experience causing psychiatric injury
- Failure to safeguard or supervise someone who is a ‘suicide risk’, or a danger to others
- Medication or dosage errors
- Failure to heed family’s warnings or requests for help
- Being discharged too soon from medical care
As I said, I really do believe that solicitors/lawyers have their place in mental health, but I don’t think they should be touting for business on mental health wards. Besides, we had a fantastic Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS) to whom we directed patients if they were unhappy with any aspect of their stay on the ward, including their Section status. At PALS, patients could air any grievances, and resolve disputes, quickly and with little or no fuss.
Still, I was delighted when, in 2012 (after I’d left), hospitals were warned in official guidance not to allow the advertising of personal injury solicitors. But that said, because the guidance was not mandatory, it was largely ignored by NHS trusts.
Later, in an article, the Daily Mail (2018) had revealed 12 months previously that ‘no-win no-fee’ personal injury firms were still being allowed to target patients inside hospitals across the country. However, the NHS was already set to conduct research into poor care of mental health patients, after an investigation by The Guardian in 2018.
Now, allegedly in response to the Mail’s revelations, NHS England has changed its standard contract with hospital trusts and inserted a clause banning the practice. Ambulance-chasing solicitors were to be banned from working or advertising in NHS hospitals, under new rules from February 2018.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who had been campaigning on the issue since 2011, said: “I’m delighted we are finally taking action against these parasites – the NHS is no longer going to be feeding the monster that is devouring it. This is a victory for the NHS, for patients and for decency.” I for one agree.
What do you think. Would you be happy to have solicitors baiting your relatives on a ward and unwell?
- Section 3 of the MHA 1983: Section 3 of the Mental Health Act is commonly known as “treatment order” it allows for the detention of the service user for treatment in the hospital based on certain criteria and conditions being met.
- The appeal panel consists of a lawyer, a doctor and a lay person. Professionals who supervise the care of the person you care for prepare reports to include the family’s point of view. The ‘nearest relative’ may attend the tribunal and make a contribution, other relatives or friends may also attend as appropriate.