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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Tough new mental health laws proposed
Hundreds of people with mental illness could find themselves locked up under the biggest shake-up of mental health services for decades.

Doctors in England and Wales will be given new powers to force people with severe mental illness to receive treatment without their consent under plans unveiled by the government in a draft Mental Health Bill published on Tuesday.

Plans explained: Click here for a Q&A guide.

The plans have prompted concern from mental health organisations, who say they could be counter-productive.

Our intention is to provide new safeguards for patients alongside better protection for the wider community

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
Current rules allow compulsory treatment only in hospital. But the draft Bill enables doctors to make patients adhere to treatment plans in the community.

If patients do not stick to these orders, they could be detained in hospitals.

A patient would initially be presented with a care plan.

Mental health tribunals would then decide on compulsory treatment after 28 days. The decision would be reviewed after six months and again after a year.

People can challenge decisions.

This proposal is contemptible
Anon, UK

To read more of your comments, click here

The Bill applies to people with conditions ranging from anorexia to manic depression and dangerous and severe personality disorders.

Until now it has been impossible to detain people with personality disorders because they have been seen as untreatable.

Megan Russell case

This loophole in the present law caused outrage in the case of Michael Stone, who was diagnosed with a severe personality disorder years before he murdered Lin Russell and her six-year-old daughter, Megan.

Compulsory treatment timetable
Two doctors and a mental health professional make initial assessment and devise care plan
After 28 days, further treatment must be approved by a mental health tribunal
There can be two six-month extensions to treatment orders
Further year-long extensions can be made
Under the new plans, people with severe personality disorders could be detained in secure mental hospitals for treatment even if they have not committed a crime.

However, if they follow the treatment plan doctors devise for them, they will not be compulsorily detained.

There are around 2,400 people with this condition - around 600 of whom live in the community.

The government has drafted these plans because of fears the public had lost confidence in community-based mental health care.

There were also fears about patients refusing treatment, and dropping out of contact with healthcare professionals.

The Bill sets out a definition of a single mental disorder which applies to everyone.

At the moment different rules apply to people with different disorders.

It will also mean patients can no longer evade treatment by arguing they would not benefit - if professionals feel that is the right course of action.

A new health care inspectorate would oversee the application of the new Bill.

There will be a 12-week consultation period on the proposals in the Bill.

Very serious

Health Minister Jacqui Smith said: "This will close the loophole and ensure better treatment for dangerous mentally disordered patients and better protection for the public.

"We understand that any use of compulsory powers is a very serious matter.

"This Bill will ensure that there is a proper focus on patients' assessed needs and the risk they pose to themselves and to others."

Health Secretary Alan Millburn added: "Our intention is to provide new safeguards for patients alongside better protection for the wider community."

However, Liberal Democrat health spokesman Dr Evan Harris accused ministers of failing to strike a balance between public safety and civil liberties.

He said: "It is damaging and disappointing that the government has merged the much-needed updating of the Mental Health Acts with repressive legislation to lock up people with untreatable personality disorders."

The Mental Health Alliance, representing a group of over 50 mental health organisations, accused the government of not listening to its concerns.

In a statement, the alliance said the proposals would backfire as more compulsory detentions and forced treatments in the community would drive people away from seeking services.

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Many patients are frightened by the idea of compulsory treatment"
Marjorie Wallace, Chief Executive of SANE
"It was time that the Mental Health Act was updated"
See also:

25 Jun 02 | Health
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