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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Protest over mental health reform
A draft Mental Health Bill is out for consultation
The proposals have prompted widespread concern
Hundreds of protestors have marched on parliament to call on MPs to reject controversial plans to reform mental health laws.

Two proposals contained in the draft Mental Health Bill have provoked widespread concern:

  • mentally ill people living in the community should be forced to take their medication
  • the detention of dangerous people with severe personality disorders even if they have not committed a crime
Ministers say the Bill needs to be updated to protect the public.

But the campaigning group, the Mental Health Alliance (MHA), says the proposals, which would apply in England and Wales, are fundamentally flawed, and would turn doctors into jailers.


I entirely understand the concerns the Mental Health Alliance have

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Prime Minister Tony Blair told MPs that the concerns of the protestors will be taken on board before the government introduces legislation in the Commons.

"It is precisely because we realised some of these issues are difficult that we went down the path of a draft bill which allows us to take account of these consultations before we publish the actual bill which we will legislate for," he said.

Public pressure

But Mr Blair warned that there was pressure from the public to introduce tight rules for treating people with severe mental disorders.

"I entirely understand the concerns the Mental Health Alliance have. I think it is important that they realise there is pressure also from the public in a different direction because the public worries that some people who maybe tragically, have a severe mental disorder can pose a danger and threat to the public. We need to balance these two things together."

But speaking ahead of Wednesday's march Alliance chairman Paul Farmer said: "We urge the government to seize this chance to pass mental health legislation fit for the 21st century before it's too late.


We urge the government to seize this chance to pass mental health legislation fit for the 21st century before it's too late

Mental Health Alliance
"That means making significant changes to its current draft Bill, which is unworkable and fundamentally flawed in its current form."

NOP research for the mental health charity Mind carried out in September found that more than one in three members of the public would be deterred from seeking help from their GP for depression if the proposed new laws were passed.

Ministers have conducted a public consultation on the proposals and are currently examining the responses before deciding whether the Bill should be included in the Queen's Speech in November.

Mr Blair told MPs that the Department of Health had received 2,000 submissions to date in response to its consultation.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Marjorie Wallace, SANE
"27,000 people at the moment are detained under the mental health act"
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Health
04 Oct 01 | Health
13 Aug 02 | Health
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