Doctors urged to advise on rights

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2001, 12:00am

Doctors should inform mentally ill patients who are forcibly sent to an institution of their right to appeal, the Public Doctors' Association said.

Association chairman Dr Lai Kang-yiu said a grey area existed in the Mental Health Ordinance, which guarantees the right but does not make it obligatory for a doctor to inform the patient of it.

He said the Hospital Authority should tell public doctors to make sure patients were properly informed of their rights. 'It's a grey area that needs to be removed and the authority should issue a guideline,' Dr Lai said.

A total of 2,100 patients were involuntarily committed to mental institutions for observation or detention under the ordinance in 1999, the last available figure from the Hospital Authority.

It is not known how many were aware they were entitled to appeal and exercised that right. The judiciary does not compile statistics on appeals.

Dr Lai said except for the Prince of Wales Hospital, which has guidelines stating patients must be informed of their rights, doctors elsewhere were allowed to exercise their own discretion.

Ninety per cent of such patients at the Prince of Wales Hospital asked to see a judge once they were told of their rights, Dr Lai said. However, a doctor's assessment carries more weight than the patient's before a District Court judge or a magistrate.

Another association doctor, who preferred not to be named, said: 'We were taught that despite their right to see a judge before compulsory admission, we have no obligation to inform them of such a right.

'We have no objection to informing patients of their right. This will not increase the workload of our staff because we need to inform the judge anyway.'

The authority said it had advised all public doctors about the rights of mentally ill patients under the ordinance, but would not directly comment on whether it should be mandatory to inform them before compulsory admission.

'Doctors in public hospitals are aware that patients have such rights under the ordinance,' an authority spokesman said.