SUNDERLAND City Council has won a major legal fight with a neighbouring authority over multimillion-pound care costs for a mental patient.
The woman, understood to be in her 20s, suffers from an unusual form of Asperger’s Syndrome and borderline personality disorder, with the cost of giving her the support she needs throughout her life likely to run into millions of pounds.
The size of the potential bills led to a legal struggle at the Court of Appeal between Sunderland and South Tyneside councils over which of them should cover the cost of caring for the woman when she is fit for release from a mental hospital.
Yesterday, three of the country’s top judges ruled that South Tyneside Council must pay because the woman was resident in a care home in its area when she was compulsorily “sectioned” under the Mental Health Act in December 2009.
Lord Justice Lloyd ruled the only alternative to finding South Tyneside Council liable was to declare that the woman – referred to in court only as “SF” – effectively had “no residence” and that was a “last resort”.
The court heard the woman is originally from Yorkshire, but attended a residential course in Sunderland, where she lived in halls of residence, before attempting suicide in 2009.
After being treated at three local hospitals, she ended up being admitted to a mental hospital in South Tyneside.
At first that was on an “informal” basis. However, she was later compulsorily detained for her own protection at the same hospital.
Hilton Harrop-Griffiths, representing Sunderland City Council, told the court that SF’s release back into the community, while not being delayed, had not been helped by the spat between the councils.
At the High Court last year, a judge ruled that, as the mental hospital in South Tyneside was only designed for short-term treatment, SF was “ordinarily resident” in Sunderland, leaving the city council to pick up the bill.
However, upholding Sunderland’s appeal, Lord Justice Lloyd said the South Tyneside hospital was the only place in which she could said to be a “resident”.
A joint statement from both councils said: “This was a difficult case raising a complex and untested legal issue that both councils agreed would need to be referred to the court.
“We have liaised closely throughout proceedings and would stress that the care of this vulnerable woman has not been compromised at any stage.”