Mental health bill disappoints again

New mental health bill is no less controversial
New mental health bill is no less controversial

Campaign groups have said they are "profoundly disappointed" with the details of the government's new mental health bill, published today.

After eight years of consultation and several failed attempts at reform, the Mental Health Alliance said the latest proposals were "still not fit for the 21st century".

The bill would create a new supervised community treatment to ensure mentally ill patients received proper support when released from hospital. If they refuse treatment, doctors would have new powers to readmit them.

Another key proposal is to scrap the "treatability test" which says a person can only be detained if their mental illness is curable. The new bill would allow someone to be hospitalised only if their condition was "treatable" - a far broader definition.

"Timely treatment for mental disorder is vital in preventing harm to patients and to others," said Home Office minister Gerry Sutcliffe.

"I look forward to doctors having powers to treat patients in the community to address the revolving door problem before their patients relapse and become involved in tragedies to themselves or to the public."

The mental health bill, which will amend the 1983 Mental Health Act, also provides for new safeguards for people who are detained, including a right to appeal. In addition, it allows patients to change the person nominated to take decisions on their behalf.

Ministers also stress that the bill will include a new, simplified definition of mental disorder to ensure that everyone who needs treatment will receive it.

"This bill will help ensure that people with serious mental health problems receive the treatment they need to protect them and others from harm," said health minister Rosie Winterton.

However, mental health charities have warned that although some changes are welcome, today's bill leaves patients with few rights. The Mental Health Alliance, which represents 78 different organisations, said new safeguards must be included.

It proposes a new requirement that all compulsory treatment be of proven benefit to the patient's health; tighter limits to who is put under community treatment orders; and new rights providing patients with legal representation.

These amendments are backed by 92 MPs, suggesting that the mental health bill may have a difficult time getting through parliament. A modified version of the bill had to be scrapped earlier this year because of lack of support.

"The legislation falls far short of what is needed and does not truly reflect the needs of those who have to live and work with it," said Mental Health Alliance chairman Andy Bell.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, added: "It is vital that health legislation is focused on benefiting and treating health problems. Treatment that cannot improve or treat a person's health, should not be forcibly given to them."


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.