10 September 2004
The government has missed an opportunity to provide a 'humane mental health system for the twenty-first century', campaigners claimed this week.
The charity Mind said revisions to the Mental Health Bill, published on September 8, would alienate service users from their carers. Plans to introduce compulsory treatment would deter patients from seeking help, as they would fear being unjustifiably detained.
Proposals allowing doctors to decide on compulsory treatment, which were published in 2002, were heavily criticised by mental health campaigners and professionals. This week's draft gives patients more rights to refuse treatment but allows doctors the final say.
Health minister Rosie Winterton said: 'We now have a Bill that puts a new focus on the individual, allowing compulsory powers to be used in ways that fit with patients' changing needs.'
But Mind chief executive Richard Brook said it failed to address misgivings about compulsory treatment.
'The Bill was an opportunity to provide a well-managed, humane mental health system for the twenty-first century. This revised draft does not move us towards this.
'Mind is concerned that proposals to introduce compulsory treatment in the community have been retained when they are neither workable nor necessary. They introduce fear and mistrust into a therapeutic relationship and could lead to many thousands of people being reluctant to seek the care that they need,' he added.
'Compulsion must be a means of last resort – the government must understand that what a person in crisis needs above all else is care and compassion.'
Mind also warned this week that mental health in-patients suffered from 'woeful' conditions in hospitals. A survey found around a quarter of patients had been or were accommodated in mixed-sex wards, despite ministers' claims that this was rare. A similar number said they had been physically or verbally threatened while in hospital, with 20% reporting a physical assault.
Brook said: 'Vulnerable people are being let down by the mental health services that they come to rely on, at the time they need them most.
'The government seems incapable of eliminating mixed-sex wards: in doing so it is failing to provide patients with the most basic levels of privacy and safety.'