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Wednesday, July 29, 1998 Published at 00:52 GMT 01:52 UK

Health: Latest News

Government committed to community care

The Government is expected stick to a policy of community care

Health Secretary Frank Dobson is preparing to set out plans for a major overhaul of care in the community.

The government is to announce a "root and branch" review of the Mental Health Acts and is expected to publish an outline of its plans for mental health services.

The BBC's Richard Hannaford reports on the proposed changes
This is expected to state that most people suffering from mental illness will be treated in the community, but that there should be more 24-hour crisis centres and support teams available.

To achieve these aims it has been reported that the government could be planning to invest up to £1bn in the mental health area.

Serious problems

Poor co-ordination between agencies, problems with housing, and shortages of staff have led to some tragedies and questions about whether care in the community is the right way forward.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said: "For the majority community care has been a true liberation, but for many thousands of others it has meant fighting for their mental and physical survival alone in squalid flats, beds and breakfasts, hostels or with families who break under the strain."

Official reports have shown that cases such as that of Christopher Clunis, the care in the community patient who killed Jonathan Zito, are rare. But the media has seized on them to point out failings in the system.

[ image: Mr Dobson: No turning back]
Mr Dobson: No turning back
Mr Dobson is expected to state unequivocally that there can be no return to treating people in institutions.

In a letter to mental health groups, the health secretary will announce a review of the mental health legislation.

He will say he wants to see a network of 24-hour centres with their own beds, and the setting up of what are called "assertive outreach teams" to make regular checks on people with mental health problems.

That has prompted speculation that the government may be thinking about introducing a form of Community Treatment Order which would allow staff to force sufferers to take medication against their will.

Although Mr Dobson will say care in the community has failed because it was never planned nor properly resourced, he will not reveal how much money the government is to invest in the area to improve it.

That sort of detail will be made available in October when the government's long-awaited green paper is finally published.

Experts concerned

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and SANE welcomed news of the government's plans, but warned any extra funding should not just be targeted at the most serious cases of mental ill health

"One in four people suffer from mental health problems every year. The government needs to look at the whole spectrum of services," said a spokeswoman for the MHF

The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health said it was in favour of increased investment in community care, but it is worried the money will only be a one-off.

"It will have to be recurring if it is going to work," said senior policy advisor Dr Andrew McCulloch.

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