Restraint in Mental Health Hospitals Under Scrutiny

The move follows figures which show the controversial technique being used hundreds of times a year in some trusts - a level described by a health minister as "shocking" and apparently "excessive".

Research by the mental health charity Mind finds that some mental health trusts no longer use face-down restraint because it is considered too dangerous and traumatic.

But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that two mental health trusts employ the procedure two or three times a day.

The Northumberland, Tyne and Wear trust used face-down restraint 923 times in 2011-12. Southern Health trust, based in Southampton, used it 810 times. Between them, the two institutions account for almost half of all the face-down restraint revealed in the figures.

However, a number of the 54 mental health trusts approached were not able to provide figures on restraint despite a statutory requirement to document and review every episode.

Health minister Norman Lamb has said he is "very interested" in "just banning face-down restraint".

"If that is possible, it should be done," he told the BBC. Mr Lamb has also ordered a "specific investigation" into the use of face-down restraint in Northumberland and Southampton.

"I want answers from them about their use of restraint and I want them to address what appears to be a very considerable excessive use of restraint."

In a statement, the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said it only used the safest and most proportionate response when patients posed a risk to themselves or others.

"Due to the specialist nature of a number of our services such as our forensic services, the trust cares for some of the most complex and challenging patients from all over the country, which means that the figures may be higher when comparing to areas without such specialist services."

The mental health charity Mind is calling upon government to "introduce an end to face-down physical restraint in all healthcare settings urgently".

In a report they say it is shocking that there have been 13 restraint-related deaths of people detained under the Mental Health Act since the death of David "Rocky" Bennett in 1998. Eight of those occurred in a single year (2011).

An independent inquiry found that Mr Bennett died as a direct result of prolonged face-down physical restraint and the amount of force used by staff at a medium secure mental health unit.