British Lawmakers Debate Draconian Mental Health Legislation

British MPs today begin debating what some have described as a truly draconian Mental Health Bill. Once hailed for its potential to pave the way for a more modern approach to mental health in the United Kingdom, the bill — some 9 years in the making — is now strongly opposed by the Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of 80 organisations representing doctors, nurses, social workers, people with mental illness and their families.

One of the Government’s controversial plans is the introduction of Community Treatment Orders. These would dictate where people live, what medicine they must take and even what time they have to get home.

Andy Bell, Chair of the Mental Health Alliance said:

“The Government’s plans are causing widespread concern among doctors, nurses, social workers, those with mental illness and their families. By forcing restrictions on patients, Community Treatment Orders will drive vulnerable patients away from seeking help and will not prevent suicides or homicides by mental health patients.

“This week MPs will decide how the 630,000 people who use mental health services in England and Wales are treated in the future – all we are asking is that they listen.”

Campaigners are asking MPs to vote to keep the six amendments made in the House of Lords last month. They will ensure that:

  • Children and young people aren’t detained on adult wards
  • People are only put on community treatment orders if this helps them
  • Someone who does not have a mental health problem but uses recreational drugs or who has different cultural or political beliefs or sexual orientation is not treated as if they have a mental illness
  • People who are able to make their own decisions are not forced to have treatment against their will
  • Hospitals are not used as prisons and people are only forced to have treatment if it will benefit them
  • More than one professional has to agree to extend someone’s detention in hospital

Andy Bell said:

“The amendments improve the Bill hugely. If the Government overturns these important changes, people with mental health problems will be deterred from seeking help, leaving them to cope alone and their mental health will deteriorate.

“If the Government reverses any of the amendments it will be ignoring the views of patients, their families, psychiatrists, nurses and social workers – who are all opposed to the proposals.”

The Samaritans is the latest charity to join the Mental Health Alliance. Members of the coalition commented today:

Paul Corry, Rethink’s Director of Public Affairs:

“As in Scotland, people in England and Wales should only have restrictions placed on them, whether in the community or in hospital, if this is going to help them. It is neither fair nor sensible that the government’s plans would mean a person seeking help with depression in Carlisle will have fewer rights and poorer access to services than someone in nearby Dumfries in Scotland. We need law that is fair, workable and respects the rights of people with mental health problems.”

Sophie Corlett, Policy Director at Mind:

“This legislation is dangerous. It damages the essential therapeutic relationship between mental health workers and patients. The result of that will be more people with mental health problems not getting the help they need. The Government are ploughing ahead in spite of all the evidence. Psychiatrists oppose this legislation, nurses oppose it, mental health organisations oppose it, and, crucially, patients oppose it. This is also a missed opportunity to put in place mental health legislation for the future that empowers rather than frightens patients. We won’t get another chance to change this for years.”

Marjorie Wallace, Chief Executive of SANE:

“We believe that, with the restrictions introduced through the amended proposal, and rigorous safeguards, supervised community treatment could provide release and the potential for a more fulfilling life for some patients currently trapped in the revolving door between hospital and the community. However, we regret that the Bill as it currently stands gives no rights to care and treatment, or rights to information and support for those many desperate families and carers who contact us.”

Peers including Lord Melvyn Bragg delivered a 9000-strong petition to Downing Street on 20 March 2007 from the Mental Health Alliance. Ken Livingstone was 9000th signatory.

The Mental Health Alliance is a coalition of 80 organisations working together to secure better mental health legislation for England and Wales: www.mentalhealthalliance.org.uk.

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