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Wednesday, 13 October, 1999, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Mentally ill 'denied crisis care'
Mentally ill people claim they are being turned away
More than a third of severely mentally ill people have been turned away by health workers when they have sought help, according to a survey.

The National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF) says patients claim to have been refused treatment by GPs, hospital casualty departments and mental health services.

It says some patients are being told to come back when "something happens".

Mental Health
A survey of 2,300 of its members in England, Northern Ireland and Wales found that a quarter claimed to have been refused a hospital bed, even when they were suffering a crisis.

Sixty-five per cent of respondents were diagnosed schizophrenics.

In one case a patient's mental state had deteriorated so badly after failing to be voluntarily admitted that eventually he had to be forcibly taken to hospital by police, who used CS gas to subdue him.

Guy Carlisle went to a hospital A&E department suffering from depression and sleeplessness.

After an eight hour wait he was turned away. This lead to a complete breakdown.

"You can see a broken leg, or a cut eye, but you cannot see depression," he said.

Mental Health Act

The survey was published as the NSF launched its "Better Act Now" campaign to promote improvements in the Mental Health Act 1983.

On Thursday, the committee reviewing the Act issued its draft recommendations.

These include advanced directives and orders to ensure community care patients take their medication or risk being admitted to hospital.

Seven out of 10 patients in the NSF survey backed advanced directives and 58% supported compulsory treatment.

However, a third said compulsion would stop people seeking help and 26% felt it would increase prescribing of older drugs which had harmful side effects.

This is because the drugs can be injected and last for up to a month.

Newer drugs with fewer side effects need to be taken daily by mouth.

More than two thirds of those surveyed said the biggest improvement to the Act would be a legal right to adequate care and treatment.

The NSF wants the Act to provide a legal right to a second opinion on mental healthcare, advanced directives with legal force and a "strong inspectorate" to monitor care.

It says compulsion should only be a last resort.

Cliff Prior, chief executive of the NSF, said: "The clear demand from people at the sharp end of this Cinderella service is for a legal right to care and treatment."

Dismissive

Michael Howlett, director of the Zito Trust charity, backed the NSF's campaign for legal rights to standards of care and treatment.

The trust was set up after the killing of Jonathan Zito by a community care patient in 1992.

Another charity Sane said 41% of callers were not satisfied with services and frequently commented that GPs and psychiatrists were unsympathetic and, at times, dismissive.

Forty-six per cent said there were not enough services available locally.

And 23% said services were not available when they needed them, particularly out of hours and at weekends.

Chief executive Majorie Wallace said: "This review [of the Mental Health Act] must tackle these needs and provide a new beginning for everyone affected by mental illness."

Mental health workers claim part of the problem is caused by staffing and acute bed shortages, combined with years of underresourcing of mental health.

A survey by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health found that more than 70% of trusts report problems recruiting specialist doctors and nurses.

The government has pledged 700m for mental health, which will cover more emergency care, beds and outreach teams.

It says new national guidelines on standards for mental health care are being drawn up.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
The BBC's Kim Catcheside: Campaigners want the government to create a legal right to care and treatment for the mentally ill
Video
Kim Catcheside reports: "A legal right to mental health srvices"
See also:

19 Nov 98 | Health
Rationing mental health
09 Sep 99 | Health
Community care: a short history
13 Oct 99 | Health
510m boost for mental health care
13 Oct 99 | Health
Crisis in mental health
04 Mar 99 | Health
Health burden of young carers
13 Oct 99 | Health
Mentally ill 'need more rights'
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