The procedures of a mental health unit in Hackney have been criticised after figures emerged showing that over 200 patients, including a convicted murderer, have gone absent without leave since 2001.
A freedom of information request revealed that 211 patients under the care of the John Howard Centre in Homerton, many of which suffer from various personality disorders, did not return from unescorted leave while receiving treatment.
Convicted murderer Lerone Boye fled the mental health unit in October last year, after he was convicted for the murder of 17-year-old Kelvin Chibueze in 2012. Police later captured him after a three-month long manhunt, which included a £10,000 reward.
The John Howard Centre is designed to provide medium secure care, which is intended for individuals at various stages of mental illness who need secure hospitalisation and who may require further specialised support to complete their recovery.
Majorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, was shocked by the statistics and expressed her concern for the safety of both patients and the public.
She said: “These extraordinary figures reflect a trend of mental health services allowing patients more escorted and unescorted leave to speed up their treatment and rehabilitation and return them to the community.
“The agenda to close down long-stay beds and to treat patients, however disturbed, in the community only increases the pressure on an already overburdened system.
“This can come at the expense of both the patient’s own protection and the safety of the public.”
Patients are allowed leave from a medium secure unit as part of a programme of rehabilitation, but they are legally obliged to return to their units. A member of staff initially accompanies the majority of patients, but as they progress, they are allowed unescorted leave to undertake specific activities.
Under the Mental Health Act 1983, patients who have absented themselves from their hospital or care home and fail to return within 28 days are discharged from the unit.
A spokesperson from the East London NHS Foundation Trust explained: “Absent without leave is where most patients do not return from agreed unescorted community leave. If a patient who has been granted leave does not return at the agreed time, we have clear processes for our staff to follow to ensure their safe return to the unit.”
The spokesperson added: “We have no missing patients. However, there is a perimeter fence, which meets the regulations for a medium secure unit, and the layout and design of the site meets the Department of Health best practice requirements. The perimeter is checked daily for any sign of interference or disturbance.”