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Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 15:40 GMT
Pyschopath proposals 'need extra cash'
mental health generic The proposals are designed to close a loophole

Government proposals to lock up dangerous psychopaths indefinitely may be unworkable unless extra resources are provided, medical experts have warned.

The Royal Colleges of Nursing and Psychiatists warned that the current service is already at "breaking point".

Ministers are looking at ways to introduce measures that would allow the indefinite detention of offenders with severe personality disorder.

Controversially, the measures would also permit the detention of a personality disordered person considered to be dangerous to the public, even if they hadn't yet committed a crime.

A patient or prisoner may not be compulsorily admitted to hospital for treatment of a psychopathic disorder unless compulsory treatment is likely to alleviate or prevent a deterioration of his condition
Excerpt of section three of the Mental Health Act
A consultation paper - Managing Dangerous People with Severe Personality Disorder: Proposals for Policy Development - puts forward two broad options for detaining people in this category.

One possibility would be to extend existing services, and the other would be to provide separate specialist facilities for people who have been assessed as dangerous.

Health ministers say that either option could be achieved by diverting cash already in the system, and without making a further injection.

But speaking at a Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into the proposals, spokespeople from the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Psychiatrists expressed doubts that either option could be achieved without "stretching a service that is already at breaking point".

Dr Siobahn Starkey, mental health advisor at the Royal College of Nursing, said that there was already a shortage of mental health nurses, and that the job would become less attractive to newcomers if pressure on the existing service increased.

michael stone Michael Stone went on to kill after his condition was deemed untreatable
Dr Nigel Eastman, head of the RCP's forensic psychiatry section, said that staffing shortages meant that extending the current service would necessitate a hike in funding for recruitment and training.

He said that 15% of consultant posts in the UK are unfilled. He said: "It is becoming more difficult to recruit and we are losing some en-route.

He added that given funding the existing system was proving difficult, it would be "na´ve" to assume that a new way of managing people could be implemented without further resourcing.

Dr Mike Shooter, the RCP's registrar and chair of its college working party, said that if the second option was chosen, it might "drain off" the best forensic staff, leaving the conventional system worse off.

He said: "If a new system were introduced ┐ there would be quite a substantial proportion of forensic psychiatrists who would find that quite an attractive environment in which to work.

"There would be a wholesale shift from the old system to the new."

The proposed measures to alter the way psychopaths are managed come in the wake of high profile killings by people with severe personality disorders.

Currently, a loophole in the law means that if a mentally ill person in the community, or a prisoner, expresses a desire to harm others, nothing can be done to detain, or further detain that person if their condition is deemed by psychiatrists to be untreatable.

Home Office minister Paul Boateng said: "I make no apology for putting the welfare of the community at the heart of these proposals."

He added that successful management of "these very dangerous individuals" would require a multi-disciplinary approach.

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See also:
15 Feb 99 |  Health
Warning over personality disorder plans
19 Jul 99 |  Health
Psychopath plans 'could be illegal'
13 Oct 99 |  Health
Mental Health Act 1983
16 Nov 99 |  Health
Mental health: Rights versus risk
13 Oct 99 |  Medical notes
Personality disorder

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