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Rights case highlights lack of medical care for psychiatric patients

The mother of a paranoid schizophrenic brings a claim for breach of human rights following the death of her son.

Roger Ramm Psychiatric patient Roger Ramm died whilst in the care of his Primary Care Trust

11 July 2003

An inquest into the death of Roger Ramm, a paranoid schizophrenic from west London, has prompted the coroner involved to urge the Home Office to take action to prevent similar deaths. Roger died in hospital in October 2001 aged 32, whilst being detained under the mental health act. His mother, Beryl Ewen, has lodged a claim for damages in the High Court alleging that Roger’s right to life, and other sections of the Human Rights Act, were violated by Hounslow Primary Care Trust.

Roger had speech and hearing problems as a child but otherwise lead a normal life. He began to have mental problems in his early twenties and was diagnosed in 1993 with paranoid schizophrenia. His mental health deteriorated over the following years and although he was mainly treated as an outpatient, he did need to be hospitalized on a couple of occasions

Throughout this time his physical health had remained good although he had begun to put on a lot of weight. However in 1999 he was admitted to hospital because of a worsening of his mental condition and he began a new regime of medication. A few months later he was allowed home on a Christmas visit and his mum noticed a marked change in his physical state. He spent long periods of time in bed, was very unsteady on his feet and had great difficulty walking.

Heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Over the next few months his physical state continued to deteriorate and he began to become breathless. He was eventually diagnosed with potential Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease although he was never formally diagnosed or treated for the condition. His doctors and nurses also noted symptoms of heart disease. During periods at his mother’s house, she realised that he was also suffering from sleep apnoea, a condition that stops the patient from breathing. Her attempts to inform the hospital were dismissed and ignored.

On 17th October, after a violent incident during a meeting, Roger was given powerful drugs to sedate him and was supposed to be under constant observation. There were warnings by duty doctors that the drugs should be given with care because of his heart problems, but the medication was still administered. Over the next two days a friend visited him and his mother phoned him. Both of them were shocked at his inability to breathe properly and his poor physical state. Despite reports that he was calm and responsive he was given yet more anti-psychotic and sedative drugs and was eventually found dead on the night of the 21st.

Mrs Ewen’s claim for damages is based on the fact that had the hospital acted appropriately, her son’s death could have been avoided or delayed and that the hospital dismissed her concerns and did not involve her in the investigative process. They suggested she had no right to know how or why Roger died.

Poor medical care received by people with mental health problems

The case, represented by Emma Jones in the Human Rights department at Leigh Day & Co, could be a landmark case for human rights issues as it highlights the poor medical care often experienced by people detained with mental health problems.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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Clinical negligence

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Psychiatry and psychology