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Patient's treatment in isolation room violated human dignity

11.2.2011

A patient detained in an isolation room in Pitkäniemi Hospital was not allowed even to go to the WC, but instead had to urinate and defecate on the floor. Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen takes the view that the circumstances of the patient's isolation were both unlawful and violated human dignity. He has asked the Pirkanmaa Hospital District to consider whether it can make recompense to the patient for this treatment in violation of human dignity.

The person who complained to the Ombudsman had been taken into Pitkäniemi Hospital for observation under the provisions of the Mental Health Act. Due to his threatening behaviour, his treatment had begun with isolation.

In his complaint the patient criticised conditions in the hospital with respect to inter alia the fact that he was not allowed to leave the isolation room even to go to the toilet, but instead had to urinate and defecate on the floor.

The hospital did not dispute this claim in the report it gave the Ombudsman. Something that also remained unclear was how often the isolation room had been cleaned.

In the view of the Ombudsman, a hospital must be able to arrange the treatment of also a threatening and violent patient in such a way that he or she is given the opportunity to answer calls of nature in a manner that respects human dignity. If this is not possible by taking the patient to a WC, conditions in the isolation room must be arranged in a way that allows urination and defecation to take place other than on the floor and that the patient does not have to suffer from the smells caused by the excretions.

In this respect, the Ombudsman takes the view that the hospital acted unlawfully. In other respects, he did not find any error or negligence in the hospital's action.

Violation of human dignity involved

The Ombudsman is of the opinion that what was involved in the way the patient was treated was a violation of human dignity that contravenes the Constitution of Finland and the European Treaty on Human Rights.

Ombudsman Jääskeläinen pointed out in his decision that violations of fundamental rights must be primarily prevented. If there is no success in achieving this, they must be corrected or redressed. But if even this can not be done, recompense for the violation must be made. In this case, the violation could no longer be corrected or redressed.

Recompense for violations of human rights can be made on the basis of either the European Treaty on Human Rights or the Tort Liability Act.

Since so-called compensation for suffering under the provisions of the Tort Liability Act apparently does not arise in this case, the Ombudsman has asked the Pirkanmaa Hospital District to consider whether it can make recompense under the Treaty on Human Rights to the complainant for the treatment that violated his human dignity.

He has asked the Hospital District to inform him, by 31.8.2011, of what measures his proposal has given rise to.

Additional info will be provided by Legal Adviser Iisa Suhonen, tel. +358(0)9 432 3341.