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Anorexic woman blocks her transfer to unit in England

By Alan Erwin

Published 19/09/2015

A High Court judge has quashed a decision to send an anorexic woman from Northern Ireland for treatment in England against her wishes
A High Court judge has quashed a decision to send an anorexic woman from Northern Ireland for treatment in England against her wishes

A High Court judge has quashed a decision to send an anorexic woman from Northern Ireland for treatment in England against her wishes.

Even though he praised medical professionals for acting in her best interests, Mr Justice Maguire said his order was based on issues around the fairness of the process.

It will now be left up to the Department of Health to decide if it should take fresh steps to have her transferred.

Counsel for the woman, who cannot be identified, told the court: "She will obviously be delighted with the outcome."

She had issued judicial review proceedings in a bid to stop being moved to a specialist eating disorder unit in London.

Now aged in her 40s, the woman has suffered from anorexia nervosa for more than 20 years and is currently being detained under mental health legislation.

The court heard her condition is so serious that efforts were centred on improving her quality of life and reducing the risk of sudden death.

Her lawyers claimed health officials took the decision in July after carrying out an unlawful "tick box exercise".

Any transfer would also be in conflict with her human rights, it was contended.

Alan Kane QC, for the patient, set out how treatment in England could take months and potentially cost £200,000.

During the challenge, Mr Justice Maguire questioned whether the department had complied with relevant guidelines. They include a general rule that the consultant from the receiving clinic comes to see the patient. No such visit took place.

Counsel for the department, David Sharpe, accepted there was no explanation for the non-attendance, but argued that exceptions applied.

Resuming the case yesterday, Mr Sharpe confirmed his consent to the granting of an order quashing the decision and for legal costs to be awarded to the applicant.

Agreeing to that outcome, the judge emphasised that it was directed at issues of process.

"This brings the case to an end and the department will consider whether they will pursue a fresh decision-making process," he said.

Describing it as a difficult case, Mr Justice Maguire said: "One has been faced with the interaction between a very sick applicant on the one hand and the very dedicated professionals on the other."

The judge explained how he had been touched by a letter from the woman in which she thanked medical staff for trying to help her combat a "pernicious disease".

"It's quite clear from reading that letter that the applicant is in the debt of the professionals who have done so much for her, albeit she is not always going to see eye to eye with everything the professionals feel is in her best interests," he said.

"I'm in no doubt the steps that have been taken have been taken completely in good faith. The issues that have arisen in this court are issues of process, primary issues about the fairness of the procedure."

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