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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Concern over mental health proposals
Patients will be compelled to take medication

Tough new plans to detain mentally ill people in hospital if they do not take the treatment prescribed to them by doctors have provoked concern among campaigners and politicians.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane:

Mrs Wallace said the Mental Health Act was in serious need of a revamp.

She said the number of people detained against their will in psychiatric hospitals over the last 10 years - during a period when community care has become more common - had increased by threefold.

Marjorie Wallace
Marjorie Wallace expressed concerns
However, she said: "This bill is not going to address the fundamental problems, which are the erosion of services over the years, the lack of beds, and the lack of risk assessment and fast-track to hospital care when people need it.

"People are already very alarmed about coercion in the psychiatric services and if it has the effect of engendering more fear then people might be turned away from services altogether.

"A lot of explanation will have to be done to reassure people that these new powers will only apply to very few people under very certain criteria.

"The safeguards have got to be strong enough that people don't fear that they are going to get a jab on the kitchen table, and just be left there."

Joint statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Law Society:-

"The Law Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists unequivocally reject the Government's current proposals for reform of the Mental Health Act 1983.

"In our opinion, the proposals are fundamentally flawed.

"We call upon the government to halt any further attempt at legislation based on the White Paper 'Reforming the Mental Health Act' and to begin meaningful consultation on a statutory scheme that takes account of mental incapacity on the successful Scottish model."

Carolyn Kirby, vice president of the Law Society:

Ms Kirby called the new measures "draconian".

Despite the promised safeguards, the scope for injustice in this situation remains alarming

John Wadham, Liberty
"The vast majority of people who have a serious personality disorder are already detained in secure units.

"The government admits itself that it is a very small number of people it is attempting to catch by this legislation.

"But unfortunately it's going to have an impact on many many thousands of other people who shouldn't be caught by it."

John Wadham, director of Liberty:

"People should not be locked up on the basis of what some expert thinks they might do in the future.

"People should be detained only because they have committed an offence, or because it is necessary for treatment of a mental illness.

"There is a real risk of people being detained on dubious grounds, having done nothing wrong, and with no treatment in prospect. Despite the promised safeguards, the scope for injustice in this situation remains alarming

"This also risks turning our psychiatrists and mental health nurses into prison warders. This can't be a sensible way forward.

"Medical opinion on the nature of severe personality disorder remains so divided; and assessing dangerousness remains an inexact science.

"While that remains the case, this power creates too high a risk of serious injustice."

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman:

Dr Harris expressed grave concerns about the new Bill.

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.

"We should be discussing a health Act for vulnerable people in need rather than a public safety bill.

Dr Evan Harris
Dr Evan Harris is concerned about civil liberties
"The public must be protected from the risk of attack. But the best way to do this is to ensure that there are adequate resources for inpatient and community care: psychiatrists, community psychiatric nurses, community care managers, drug therapies and counselling treatments."

Dr Harris said the public - and to a much greater extent the mentally ill themselves - were at more risk from under-resourcing than from the absence of detention powers or compulsory community treatment orders.

"There has to be a debate on compulsory treatment in the community. The biggest problem is that patients who need or want inpatient treatment simply can't get into a hospital bed or access the modern drugs that they can take to control their symptoms.

"Until this blatant rationing of care for the most vulnerable in society is tackled, enforced medication in the community will be obscenely premature."

See also:

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