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Tuesday, 16 November, 1999, 03:57 GMT
Mental health: Rights versus risk
Scales
Should patients get more rights or more compulsory drug treatment?
Many mental health groups say changes to legislation announced on Tuesday should focus on patients' rights.

They are worried the government is likely to emphasize public safety because of fears whipped up by the media over killings by community care patients.

Mental Health
Groups like the National Schizophrenia Fellowship say the problem has been exaggerated.

The reasons for the care failures are complex and require greater investment in community care rather than a draconian approach, they say.

BBC News Online looks at some patients who have suffered because of care failures, as well as some recent community care killings which have made the headlines.

Diagnosis

Denise says she could not understand what was happening to her son Martin when he began avoiding his friends and hiding away in his bed for most of the day.

She thought he was lazy. "Nobody told us he was seriously ill."

Martin was suffering from a form of schizophrenia marked by lethargy and apathy.

Mother and son say they had to fight for years to get him properly diagnosed so he could get the treatment he needed.

They then had to fight to get him off older drugs which he says did not help relieve his symptoms much.

In another case, a patient called Kevin killed himself by jumping off a high building while in the care of the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

He was among seven mentally ill patients who committed suicide at the hospital within a six-month period.

A review published in late 1998 was critical of the hospital.

Kevin's mother Grace said: "The report says that it would cost too much to provide a proper secure area for patients. How much is my son's life worth?

"Kevin could still be alive today if it was not for this tight-fisted approach to community care."

Killings

Cases of killings by community care patients have won media headlines.

Mental health experts say this has resulted in the mentally ill becoming stigmatised further, despite the fact that they are more likely to be a danger to themselves than to others.

They argue the killers themselves are often victims of a system which does not give them enough support once they are released from hospital.

Psychiatrists say community care is underfunded and there are not enough beds available for people who are in a crisis.

But some groups, such as the Zito Trust, set up after the killing of Jonathan Zito by former community care patient Christopher Clunis, want more safeguards for the public as well as greater support for patients.

Community care patients who have killed include Michael Folkes, who stabbed 33-year-old Susan Milner to death with scissors in 1994.

The attack was similar to one he had carried out the year before.

An inquiry found that, if he had been admitted to hospital before both attacks, they could have been prevented.

Scissors

Folkes was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and had been released into the community when he stabbed Ms Milner 70 times at his London flat.

He had been released from hospital against expert advice on the condition that he continued to take his medicine.

He later refused to take injected anti-psychotic drugs and asked to be allowed to administer his own orally taken medicine.

Tests after the attack on Ms Milner demonstrated no traces of medication in his body, showing he had stopped taking his medicine.

He was convicted of manslaughter in 1995 and was sentenced to be detained indefinitely at Broadmoor.

The inquiry team criticised his failure to take his medication as well as a lack of communication between the community care team dealing with his case.

See also:

08 Dec 98 | Health
Community care failures
13 Oct 99 | Health
Mental Health Act 1983
04 Nov 99 | Health
Action urged over mental illness
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