More funds promised for mental health

30 Jul 98
The beleaguered mental health service is to receive as much as £1bn in extra cash over the next three years but it will have to wait until the autumn to find out precisely how much.

31 July 1998

Health minister Paul Boateng announced on Wednesday that there would be more cash to fund a network of care homes staffed 24 hours a day by specially trained nurses. But he would not say how much money would be allocated to fund the scheme. This will be revealed in October when the breakdown of the extra cash announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review is published. It is thought around £1bn will be made available to support the new measures.

Much of the new accommodation could be built using the Private Finance Initiative and may involve partnerships between mental health trusts, housing associations and the private sector. A health department review of the PFI, which is due in the next few weeks, is expected to propose measures to boost smaller mental and community health schemes.

There will also be 24-hour support helplines and crisis teams to help patients who have been discharged. The government also promised more acute beds for the mentally ill and outreach teams to carry out regular check-ups of discharged patients.

The proposals mark a shift away from the contentious care in the community policy introduced by the Conservatives in the early 1990s. Under this initiative patients were moved out of old-style mental institutions into sheltered housing and council and private accommodation.

Though the initiative has not been abandoned yet, there will be tighter controls on patients. Many of the tragedies associated with care in the community were brought about by patients' refusal to continue with prescribed treatment once they were discharged from hospital. Under the proposals clinicians will be given the power to force their charges to take their medicine and recall them back into hospital.

Health secretary Frank Dobson has asked Professor Graham Thornicroft to head an independent task force to review the Mental Health Act. Once the group reports it is likely the government will end care in the community. In a letter to Professor Thornicroft, the health secretary said care in the community had failed and he sought a 'third way' for mental healthcare. Too many sick and confused people were sleeping rough or wandering the streets, he added.


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