News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Government “has ignored” MPs' recommendations on mental health law

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7510.178-c (Published 21 July 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:178
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    Plans for new mental health legislation for England and Wales are “unworkable, misconceived, and would violate fundamental human rights,” the Law Society warned last week.

    The solicitors' professional body joined psychiatrists and mental health charities in condemning the government's decision to retain the most controversial elements of its Mental Health Bill, despite the recommendations of a joint committee of MPs and peers who looked at the bill in draft from.

    The Law Society said the government, which published its response to the joint parliamentary scrutiny committee's report on the bill last week, had ignored most of the committee's 107 recommendations.

    Ministers said the government had accepted “in full or in part” more than half the committee's suggestions. But it rejected the recommendation that no one should undergo enforced detention and treatment if this would provide no therapeutic benefit.

    The bill will allow compulsory treatment in the community for the first time and will replace provisions in the 1983 Mental Health Act for detention and treatment without consent for people with treatable mental disorders. Ministers are determined that those with personality disorders believed by many psychiatrists to be untreatable should also be covered by the powers.

    The government rejected a recommendation that there should be a different bill to deal with people who have a mental disorder but who cannot benefit from any kind of treatment.

    The health minister Rosie Winterton said, “Although the majority of mental health patients pose no danger to themselves or others, the government has a duty to protect people with serious mental health problems from harming themselves or other people.

    “The bill introduces a number of new safeguards for patients' rights, and we are confident that the bill's provisions will mean that compulsory treatment will be used only when essential.”

    Edward Nally, the Law Society's outgoing president, said: “The emphasis of the bill is still wrongly concentrated on the perceived risk and danger posed by people suffering from mental health problems, even though evidence shows they are more likely to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of violence.

    “We have seen a green paper, a white paper, and two draft mental health bills, and each time the government has faced resounding opposition from psychiatrists, lawyers, the police, and carers, who have all warned that the legislation proposed is unethical and unworkable.”

    Paul Farmer, chairman of the Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of 73 mental health groups, said mental health workers, service users, and carers would be “disappointed and angry that the government intends to press ahead with plans to broaden out powers of compulsion and deny professionals the flexibility they need to offer people the right care and support.”

    Tony Zigmond, vice president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the college was “saddened by the government's failure to adopt many of the central recommendations of the committee.”

    The pre-legislative scrutiny committee's report is at www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/jcdmhb.cfm, and the government's response at www.dh.gov.uk (reference No 2005/0244).

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