Advocates Divided Over Scrapped Mental Health Bill
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 5, 2006
LONDON, ENGLAND--There has been a mix of reactions from advocates representing people with mental illnesses over British lawmakers' decision to drop a proposed mental health bill that had been worked on for the past eight years.
United Kingdom health ministers said that they dropped the most recent draft last week because of ongoing concerns over the effectiveness of the proposal to protect the public while safeguarding the rights of people with certain mental illnesses. The draft had gone through so many drafts, and faced so much opposition, that the ministers said they feared it would never pass Parliament.
The proposal, which would have affected people in England and Wales, would have made it easier for the government to detain people with personality disorders -- whether or not they committed a crime -- if they were considered a risk to society. The bill also would have allowed the government to force patients who live in the community to take medication or face hospitalization, a provision that psychiatrists opposed, arguing it would essentially turn them into jailers.
Advocates had generally supported an element of the bill that would have allowed mental health patients to have an independent advocate represent them, and another that would have appointed an independent tribunal to review treatment plans for those who had been detained for longer than 28 days.
Ministers said they now intend to go back and simply "streamline" the existing 1983 Mental Health Act.
Sophie Corlett, policy director of the mental health advocacy group Mind, responded: "If they simply take all the bits of the draft (bill) that they have been working on all this time and stick them on to the previous Act, we will simply end up with a piece of legislation that doesn't fit together but will have all the problems with the previous legislation."
The group Action for Advocacy responded by calling on lawmakers to keep the independent advocate provision.
"Being on section in a psychiatric hospital is a daunting, sometimes frightening experience," A4A director Rick Henderson told the Community Newswire. "Knowing you have someone independent on your side, fighting your corner, can make all the difference in the world."
Paul Farmer, whose Mental Health Alliance represents 60 organizations, told Archant regional news service that the move puts people at further risk of having their civil liberties violated.
"The government's decision to abandon much of its controversial draft bill is an unprecedented change of plan, but some of its proposed amendments to the current mental health act are cause for concern."
Jo Williams, chief executive of Mencap, said: "Mental health legislation should be used to improve mental health, not as a form of social control for people who are not ill, and we are glad that the government has backed down on this point."
The government plans to publish its shorter bill in October or November, according to The Guardian.
"Mind hails dropping of draconian Mental Health Bill but key issues still need to be addressed" (Mind)
"Anger over scrapped Mental Health Bill" (Community Newswire)
"Mental Health Bill 'to be axed'" (BBC News)
"Q&A: draft mental health bill" (The Guardian)
"New mental health detention plans" (BBC News)
"Real battle over mental health law about to begin" (British Medical Journal)