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Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 09:16 GMT
'It's wrong to lock up people against their will'
Mentally ill patient
Mentally ill people considered a potential danger will be detained
Ministers are proposing a big shake up in mental health legislation which would introduce new powers to detain people with severe personality disorders who are considered dangerous, and to force people with serious mental illness to take their medication.

A former psychiatric patient and a top doctor give their reaction to the plans.

Debbie Tallis, a former psychiatric treatment:

"I think it is fundamentally wrong that you can lock people up who have not committed an offence, and I think it is wrong to forcibly treat people in their home.

"I don't know what the answer is exactly, but I think people are going to lose trust and respect for their community psychiatric nurses and others in the mental health service.

"The problem at the moment is services are not spread enough. I think we should have more help and support outside the hospital, which is not there in many places.

"A lot of people actually know when they are becoming unwell, and they want help at that early stage.

"Early intervention is the answer, not compulsory treatment."

Ms Tallis said in the future she might be less likely to seek help for fear of being sectioned against her will.

Dr Trevor Turner, consultant psychiatrist and Clinical Director at Homerton and Barts Hospitals in London:

"The point of a community treatment order for people with mental illnesses is to give them a right to treatment, and not have to order them into hospital.

"In a sense it is a liberation of the law. Currently people require treatment in hospital in order to get the treatment they need, and so the good Samaritan has to haul them away from their home.

"The notion of treatment against their will at home is as mythical as an appendectomy on the kitchen table - any treatment that has to be carried out will be carried out in hospital, but the consent issue will be generated by a community treatment order.

"Most of the untoward incidents that occur are because people drop out of treatment and stop medication. Of course, medication - unfortunately, we would like it to be otherwise - is the backbone of modern community care."

Dr Turner said he could understand fears that cash-strapped NHS staff might be tempted to use the new powers to sedate people in their own home, rather than opt for more appropriate forms of treatment.

But he said: "Usually if you have legal powers to deliver care then more money comes, and if we have a community treatment order then I think hospitals and mental health services will be able to say 'we need proper community nursing available and better resources there rather than having to concentrate on running acute wards in hospital.

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