Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

Wales publishes new mental health law plan

Man sitting on a bed
A Welsh law on mental health care would give new rights to patients

A new Welsh law on the care and treatment of people with mental health conditions has been published by the assembly government.

Among its provisions are new rights for patients in regard to assessment, treatment and advocacy.

Health Minister Edwina Hart says the law, or measure, would make important changes.

But Welsh mental health charity Hafal said timescales for care plans would still need to be legally fixed.

Where appropriate, the new law aims to provide treatment for those with mental illness through primary care services, by placing a duty on health boards and local authorities to deliver local support services to operate alongside GP practices.

It would also require care and treatment plans to be to be drawn up for mentally ill adults being treated in hospitals.

It is essential that there is a legally fixed timescale between initial referral by a GP and the creation of a care plan for those who are assessed as requiring secondary mental health services
Hafal Chief Executive Bill Walden-Jones

Former service user Lee McCabe said: "This is a historic moment for service users in Wales which will be seen as a turning point in providing key rights to patients with serious mental illness.

"Anyone who has had a serious mental illness will welcome the day when service users have a legal right to a comprehensive care and treatment plan... (it) will prevent many people from becoming so unwell that they need to receive compulsory treatment, which is such a destructive and anti-therapeutic experience."

The Chief Executive of Welsh mental health service charity Hafal said the proposals contained "a great deal to commend", but warned there was an issue which still needed to be addressed.

Bill Walden-Jones said: "It is essential that there is a legally fixed timescale between initial referral by a GP and the creation of a care plan for those who are assessed as requiring secondary mental health services.

"...It is vitally important to create a care plan as soon as possible to prevent patients from becoming even more unwell, and to move forward... positively and effectively at the earliest point."

The measure would enable patients who have been discharged from secondary care but subsequently believe they need further treatment to refer themselves back to hospital directly, without needing to to go to a GP or elsewhere first.

Health boards and councils would be required to arrange to receive self-referrals, and to undertake timely assessments.

Independent advocates

The law would enable all subject to the formal powers of the 1983 Mental Health Act to be entitled to support from an independent mental health advocate (IMHA).

The Act currently enables this for patients subject to longer-term sections but not for those on shorter-term, emergency sections.

The new measure would also give all patients receiving care and treatment for mental health problems in hospital a legal right to access independent and specialist mental health advocacy.

It is hoped this would help inpatients make informed decisions about their care and treatment.

Ms Hart said: "I look forward to working with members over the coming months as the scrutiny of this proposed measure is taken forward."

The proposed measure does not deal with compulsory admission and treatment, and cannot be used to require a person to receive assessment, treatment or advocacy who does not wish to do so.

Those remain matters for the 1983 Mental Health Act.



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