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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK


Dobson to tackle mental health 'lottery'

It is estimated that one in three people will suffer from a mental health problem

National standards on mental health which aim to outlaw "care by postcode" will be announced by Health Secretary Frank Dobson on Thursday.

The National Service Framework on mental health will set out the type of treatment and service adult patients in England can expect on the NHS.

Currently, the type of services the mentally ill can expect varies widely according to where they live.

Mr Dobson is also expected to announce an extra 17 walk-in primary health clinics for England to add to the 19 already planned for next year, more National Lottery money for cancer equipment and how much the new supernurses will earn.

But the main focus of the speech is expected to be mental health.

Campaigners say the framework is the first step to tackling care by postcode, but they believe real change will only be achieved with extra funding.


The framework, to be announced at the Labour party conference, was developed by a body of independent experts.

It is expected to include a pledge that people should be treated as near to their home as possible and that there should be 24-hour cover.

It is also likely to say carers assessed as needing extra help should have this funded.

Currently they only have the right to have their needs assessed.

The National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF) says it hopes the National Service Framework will give every patient a written care plan, outlining how they will be treated.

An NSF survey of 450 people with a mental illness shows 65% are not given a copy of their care plan, even though local authorities have a duty to provide it.

"If they have a care plan which they understand, they can start taking some control of issues such as the drugs they are given, housing and social care," said an NSF spokesman.

Charity Mind also backs more action on care plans. It wants patients to be able to negotiate them with care staff and for them to suggest more than one type of treatment.

A spokeswoman said that, although Mind welcomed the framework's attempt to set long-term targets and standards, it wanted to see immediate action in areas such as access to written care plans.

The Mental Health Foundation said the framework would need to be ambitious or it would be "a missed opportunity".

[ image: Frank Dobson will outline the new framework at the Labour party conference]
Frank Dobson will outline the new framework at the Labour party conference
It will judge its success on whether it reduces the number of people compulsorily committed to hospital as a result of better early intervention, on the experiences of patients, on the morale of professionals and on public understanding of mental health issues.

June McKerrow, the foundation's director, said: "We need services appropriate for the twenty first century, not services that write people off, refuse to take account of their experiences, or increasingly subject them to inappropriate compulsory treatment."

The NSF called the framework a "first step", but said improved standards could not be obtained without substantial extra funding.

"Some health authorities are cutting their mental health budgets and the mentally ill are still being turned away because of a shortage of beds and staff," said a spokesman.

Charity SANE also called for more resources to be put into providing more mental health beds.

The government has announced an extra £700m for mental health over the next three years, but campaigners say more money is needed to make up for previous shortfalls.

Other national service frameworks on other key health problems are in the pipeline.

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