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22nd August 2013

One of our residents is missing….

There’s a story that appeared in the papers a couple of weeks ago about a convicted killer who had not returned to the hospital where he was detained after being given leave to go for a walk. The alarm was raised when he failed to return on time.  After an extensive police search, Daniel Rosenthal, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was safely returned to hospital. Clearly this is the kind of story that attracts lurid headlines, partly because of his history (he killed his mother in 1982) and his illness. ‘How was he allowed out?’ was the cry in some of the tabloids. Well, the fact was he was regarded by the hospital as low risk and he was given leave to go out for a walk unsupervised. Now this is a high profile example, but maybe a useful reminder about what we do if a resident goes missing or does not return when they said they would. Clearly the first port of call is to see what your missing persons’ policy says, in fact remind yourself of it before it happens! The QCS Missing Client Policy and Procedure follows a timeline of what to do and when.

So if a resident goes missing, the care home ’s first response might be ‘ring the police’. Let’s think about that, when do we do ring them? As soon as we notice the person is not in their room or the lounge or do care staff look around the grounds and nearby streets first? If the person has not returned exactly when they said they would, do we contact the police straightaway or do we give the person another half hour to come back? And if the police find the person and they are acutely mentally unwell, or are found 100 miles away, or say they don’t want to come back, what arrangements are you going to put in place to ensure they are appropriately cared for? I’m prompted to write this blog because I’ve been involved recently in some multi-agency training with the police about arrangements for mutual assistance in working with people with mental disorder, and these were exactly the kind of questions that cropped up.

Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of people going missing are returned without harm, but on the other hand, if a vulnerable person goes missing, it could be the first step in the investigation of a major crime case. So the key to the safe return of missing residents is good communication with the police, that includes having fullest possible information on the person, what they were wearing, where they might go, what their state of mind of is, what the level of risk is to the person or others and what they look like (have you got an up-to-date photo of the resident?) I know all of this sounds obvious, but if you contact the police if someone goes missing, these are exactly the things they will ask you.

David Beckingham

Mental Health Specialist

David Beckingham is a self-employed independent trainer, and is also an honorary lecturer with the University of Cumbria. His professional background is as a social worker and he has worked in care homes for older people in Cumbria. David’s main area of expertise is in mental health. Prior to becoming self-employed he was a Staff Development and Training Officer with Cumbria County Council, both commissioning and delivering training to mental health workers and others in statutory and independent sector organisations. Read more

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