Fears on secret drugs for elderly prompt new guideline plan

MINISTERS are considering new guidelines on administering drugs without consent following fears that hundreds of elderly people are secretly being given medicine to make life easier for staff.

This week The Scotsman revealed one in seven care homes in Scotland admits giving drugs to residents without their knowledge.

Now the Executive is considering the matter as part of a revision of the code of practice in the Adults with Incapacity Act.

Hunter Watson, whose mother, Helen, was given drugs without her consent on two occasions, raised the issue with Holyrood's public petitions committee.

His petition is calling for "adequate safeguards to protect vulnerable adults being given by surreptitious means unwanted, unnecessary and potentially harmful medication".

Yesterday the committee agreed it was an important matter and revealed a letter from the Executive detailing progress in controlling the practice.

Lewis Macdonald, the deputy health minister, wrote to convener Michael McMahon, reassuring the committee that the current law ensured a multi-professional team must approve any covert medication.

"We would be concerned if medication was being administered to patients in nursing homes, covertly or otherwise, without lawful authority, or if patients were being sedated to make life easier for staff rather than for therapeutic purposes... A comprehensive range of safeguards is in place to ensure such things do not happen," he wrote.

However, following a consultation involving the British Medical Association, Alzheimer Scotland, Enable Scotland and the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the Executive is to draw up a new code of practice, including guidance on the use of surreptitious drugs.

"My officials are working hard to finalise and publish the revised code as soon as possible," Mr Macdonald added.

Jackie Baillie, Labour MSP for Dumbarton, said: "There is merit in considering what Mr Watson has said because he raises serious concerns about a vulnerable section of our society and we would not want those vulnerable people to be given medication on a covert basis."

Mr Watson, 70, whose mother was given anti-psychotic drugs without her permission after going into a care home at 90, believes safeguards must be put in place to ensure elderly people are not given drugs for the wrong reasons.

He said the revision of guidelines in the light of the comments of charities and his own campaign was a "step forward", though he would like safeguards to be established in law to guarantee vulnerable people a "human right" to refuse.

Norman Dunning, chief executive of Enable Scotland, is concerned that covert medication may take place when carers are unable to deal with a patient.

He said the guidelines must be revised so it is quite clear that medicine is only given secretly in food and drink on the specific advice of a doctor. He also said the code should ensure any covert medication is recorded.