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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Mental health laws set to change
Depressed man
Existing laws can be traced back to the 1960s
Plans for a radical overhaul of the country's mental health laws have been unveiled by the Scottish Executive

Health Minister Susan Deacon said the raft of proposals would put the rights of the individual at the heart of mental health legislation and give sufferers and their carers more say in how their cases are dealt with.

The move follows a report by the Millan Committee earlier this year, in which 400 suggestions for reforming mental health legislation were made.

The existing legislation, the Mental Health Act 1984, was reviewed by the committee, chaired by the Rt Hon Bruce Millan, to reflect changes in mental health care in recent years.

The minister said the "vast majority" of the proposals had been accepted.

The committee's recommendations include:

  • Measures allowing some patients to be compulsorily treated in the community rather than hospital

  • The creation of a new independent tribunal, replacing the role of the sheriff court in considering compulsory measures

  • Ensuring that compulsory care and treatment only be used as a last resort and be linked to a patient care plan

  • Reforms to the system for dealing with mentally disordered offenders, including new arrangements for the discharge of restricted patients.

At the launch of the policy statement Ms Deacon said a "broader approach" was needed to tackle mental health problems with greater focus on "better prevention, high-quality treatment and modern legislation".

She said: "Twenty years ago the majority of patients with mental health problems were cared for in institutions that were closer to the 19th century than the 20th.

Susan Deacon
Susan Deacon: "Broader approach"
"Today, so much has changed. People are, wherever possible, cared for in the community close to their homes and families. Mental health law must now catch up with mental health care."

She said the new proposals "represent the biggest ever overhaul of our mental health laws in Scotland" and stressed that "patients and their families will notice the difference".

"They will have stronger rights to independent advocacy, more protection against neglect and all types of abuse, a stronger voice in having their needs and conditions assessed, and free legal representation in the new mental health tribunal system.

"The public too should be reassured that this wide-ranging package recognises the legitimate concerns of the community to be protected from the small minority of offenders with mental disorders who pose a risk."

Draft legislation

Ms Deacon said that ministers would continue to oversee those patients placed under restrictions by the courts.

She said this would ensure that those who remained dangerous would not be released back into the community.

The planned reforms to mental health laws however, were not welcomed by everyone.

Mary Scanlon
Mary Scanlon: "Bed blocking"
Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon MSP said: "Unfortunately this announcement will do nothing to address the huge amount of hospital beds currently being blocked by mentally ill patients.

"Rather than address this issue and improve the care of those with mental health problems, Susan Deacon has simply ignored it once again.

"Instead of turning a blind eye, Miss Deacon should unify the health related social work budgets. Beds would then be freed up for those who desperately needed them, and mentally ill patients would be more likely to receive the care they require.

"The minister also wants to abdicate her responsibility for the final discharge of dangerous patients by handing this power over to mental health tribunals."

Work will now begin to enshrine the new mental health proposals in a bill, which will be put before the Scottish Parliament next year.

Former Scottish health minister, Sam Galbraith, appointed the committee in February 1999 to look at reforming the Mental Health Act, which has many provisions dating back as far as 1960.

BBC Scotland's Reevel Alderson
"The executive is pledging to improve the way in which mental illness is dealt with"
See also:

10 Oct 01 | Scotland
Plans to tackle suicide rate
22 Aug 01 | Scotland
Police produce mental health video
31 Jul 01 | Scotland
Depression levels high in Scotland
25 Jan 01 | Scotland
Mental health overhaul plans
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