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Civil liberties and public good: detention of tuberculous patients and the Public Health Act 1984

Cambridge University Press
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  • Law
  • Medicine


Coker, R (2001) Civil liberties and public good: detention of tuber- culous patients and the Public Health Act 1984. Medical history, 45 (3). pp. 341-58. ISSN 0025-7273 Downloaded from: Usage Guidelines Please refer to usage guidelines at or alterna- tively contact [email protected] Available under license: Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives Medical History, 2001, 45: 341-358 Civil Liberties and Public Good: Detention of Tuberculous Patients and the Public Health Act 1984 RICHARD COKER* On 30 August 1998, the Mail on Sunday, under the headline "TB refugee 'must be held in hospital"', described the case of a Somalian man who had been "ordered by a court to remain in hospital for six months to prevent him spreading a highly infectious deadly disease". That disease was tuberculosis and a court order had been issued "after the man had twice staggered into Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, North-West London, for treatment but left without trace. He failed to take prescribed treatment and his condition rapidly deteriorated, forcing him to return to hospital a third time."1 As was noted by the executive director of Brent and Harrow Health Authority, "there comes a time when you must clearly draw a balance between civil liberties and public good".2 That balance, as I shall show, has been redrawn in legislation and public policy over the past seventy-five years as concerns over the threat posed by those with tuberculosis has waxed and waned. Because no central records are kept, it is unclear how many individuals have been detained under legislation, but there are suggestions that more detention orders are being issued now than in earlier years, and that the duration of detention is, in some cases, considerably longer than previously.3 For example, the Ministry of Health noted, in 1958, that "the power [of de

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