Ex-prisoner to be first to publicly sue NHS for mental health care in prison | UK News
A woman who has been in and out of prison for 25 years is trying to become the first to publicly sue the NHS over allegations of poor mental health care in prison.
Farah Damji, 54, has four convictions for 28 offenses, including multiple counts of theft, fraud, stalking and violating a restraining order, which date back to 1995.
She spent time in eight British prisons, after her first six-month sentence at the notorious Rikers Island prison in new York.
After years of poor mental health, a psychologist diagnosed her with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2019.
Since 2013, the NHS has been responsible for the health care of prisoners in England, who it says are “guided by the principle that those who have committed a criminal offense should be able to access medical care equivalent to civilian patients”.
Ms. Damji pursues the center and northwest London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWLT) for allegations she was repeatedly denied mental health care at HMP Bronzefield, HMP Downview and HMP Send between 2014 and 2020.
“Women are so reluctant to complain about anything in prison because they are too afraid of the repercussions,” she told Sky News.
She currently lives in Dublin, having fled her last trial for violating a restraining order in March 2020, which she claims to be because she suffered a blackout.
According to figures from the Ministry of Justice, more than 71% of the female prison population has mental health problems.
Andy Bell, deputy executive director of the Center for Mental Health, describes “poor well-being” as the “norm” in women’s prisons.
“Many incarcerated women have very complex needs resulting from a life of abuse and neglect,” he said. “So the NHS is trying to meet a lot of needs in an environment which is inherently difficult and far from conducive to good mental health support.”
Ms Damji says she constantly sought psychological help in prison, but was only able to get a final diagnosis 20 years after her first conviction – thanks to a paid forensic report.
While serving her sentence at HMP Downview in 2005, she was told she suffered from borderline personality disorder (BPD), which her lawyers now claim is a misdiagnosis.
Nine years later, in 2014, she was back inside and on remand at HMP Bronzefield when she says she told prison staff she felt suicidal.
“I felt like I wasn’t going to get over what was happening to me,” she said. “I kept asking and asking for help, but they didn’t do anything. It’s a campaign to ignore them and they will shut up.”
HMP Bronzefield in Surrey is privately held, with health care services provided by CNWLT.
After Ms Damji complained about her treatment there, the Ombudsman for Parliament and the Health Service ruled in 2015 that CNWLT had violated guidelines by denying her psychotherapy.
They said she was not entitled to it because she was in pre-trial detention – not sentenced.
Three years later, she was transferred to HMP Send in Woking, where she says she again sought mental health care.
“I was told I was not a priority. They told me ‘you’re going to have to get help when you’re away,” she told Sky News.
She was released the following year, but was recalled months later after criticizing her probation housing and support workers in a tweet.
His lawyers ordered a detailed psychological report, which ultimately gave a diagnosis of complex PTSD.
“It made sense – with the trauma of my childhood – but also the re-traumatization of being in jail so many times,” she said. “It made me angry. Angry that my sanity was so unimportant to so many people and organizations.
“‘Why didn’t they help me years ago? Why have I spent my life in and out of prison?”
Ms Damji and her legal team are seeking damages of at least £ 70,000, with their first High Court date due later this year.
Caron Heyes, a senior medical negligence partner at the Fieldfisher law firm, told Sky News cases like his are rarely heard in public and almost always settled out of court.
“If this case continues to be argued in a trial and brings out the medical issues in open court, it could be really, really important,” she said. “It might establish some jurisprudence, so when we’re trying to win business for other people, it gives us a precedent to refer to.”
She said that although the NHS has a statutory obligation to provide mental health care to prisoners, inmates are “at the mercy” of general practitioners and prison officers to refer them to specialists and take them to appointments. you.
“There is a dual problem of resources – the NHS and the prison service. No matter what you say should happen, if it doesn’t actually happen on the ground people will continue to be injured,” she declared.
Ms. Damji and her team are still crowdfunding their legal fees, which include another costly psychological report.
She says she’s trying to get mental health support Ireland, but still feels “very fragile”, is hyper-vigilant and has trouble sleeping.
She is currently fighting extradition and is trying to appeal her restraining order to the Supreme Court, she is also unable to return to the UK and see her family.
But she says the court case keeps her going.
“There has to be another way for women who have been through the trauma and abuse that I have and who end up in the criminal justice system,” she said.
“The condition isn’t meant to put you in a situation where your mental health deteriorates to the point that you can’t function.
“Mental health is a human right – your right to life is your most basic human right.
“I don’t want the same to happen to someone else.”
Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust said in a statement: ‘While we are sympathetic to Ms Damji, we do not accept the allegations made and are unable to comment further because legal proceedings are in progress. “
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call the Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected] in the UK. In the United States, call your local Samaritans branch or 1 (800) 273-TALK