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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Mental health law fears played down
A woman with mental health issues
One in five people in Scotland has a mental problem
The rights of mentally ill people will not be undermined by proposed legislation being published in Scotland, the health minister has promised.

Malcolm Chisholm has unveiled a Bill that represents an overhaul of the mental health laws, which date back more than 40 years.

The planned shake-up comes with a promise from the executive that the rights of patients will be strengthened.

But mental health campaigners have warned that the new powers, including compulsory treatment in the community, might infringe people's liberties.


We need to get more money in and better services, whether we have these new orders or not

Richard Norris
Scottish Association for Mental Health

Aspects of the shake-up, like the greater use of advocates - friends or volunteers who can speak up for patients - have been welcomed.

Another amendment is that a mental health tribunal will rule on treatment instead of sheriff courts.

But the biggest controversy surrounds compulsory treatment in the community.

Instead of automatic transfer to hospital, people may be obliged to take medication at home and to report to health authorities.

Rights 'strengthened'

Critics fear this will be used too frequently and will limit personal freedom.

But Mr Chisholm insisted that the least restrictive treatment would be used and the aim was to strengthen patients' rights.

He said that the changes were designed to make the system more flexible.

Malcolm Chisholm
Malcolm Chisholm: "Clearly-stated rights"

Mr Chisholm told BBC Radio Scotland that compulsory treatment had existed for years and that the issue at stake was clarifying "the gateway to compulsion".

"The issue in the bill is about defining far more precisely the circumstances in which compulsory treatment is necessary and for the first time making sure that those subject to compulsion have clearly-stated rights," he said.

"Nobody will be compelled to take treatment in their home. If that arises, it would be in a hospital or clinic.

"The change merely mirrors the change that has taken place in mental health policy towards care in the community."

Cost of illness

One in five people in Scotland suffers from mental illness at some point in their lives.

Currently at any one time 125,000 young people in Scotland will have a mental health problem severe enough to interfere with their daily lives.

Statistics suggest that about 35% of absenteeism from work is caused by mental health problems, at a cost of between 1bn and 2bn.

Patient being electrocuted years ago
Treatment has changed over the years

Richard Norris, director of policy at the Scottish Association for Mental Health, said it welcomed many parts of the shake-up.

He said that a sheriff court was not an appropriate place to make decisions because it made mental health users feel like criminals.

Mr Norris said he was encouraged by plans for service users to gain access to advocacy services and the right for users to have someone to protect their interests.

However, he also said there were areas of the Bill which gave cause for concern.

'Cinderella services'

"Particularly for example the proposal to introduce new powers for compelling people to accept treatment in the community and their own homes," he went on.

"The Bill, it seems, will introduce a power where someone could be under compulsory treatment on a renewable order for many years."

There may be an issue in the future of people feeling like second-class citizens, he added.

"I think that mental health services have been Cinderella services in terms of the NHS for many years.

"We need to get more money in and better services, whether we have these new orders or not."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Brian Taylor reports
"Maggie's lifetime of mental illness"
Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm
"Nobody will be compelled to take treatment in their home"
See also:

02 Sep 02 | Scotland
01 Jul 02 | Scotland
18 Oct 01 | Scotland
10 Oct 01 | Scotland
22 Aug 01 | Scotland
31 Jul 01 | Scotland
25 Jan 01 | Scotland
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