again under fire over plans to change mental health law
by Angela Hussain
government has again come under fierce criticism over its plans
to change mental health law.
joint parliamentary committee has warned the government's planned
legislation would erode civil liberties by imposing compulsory treatment
on people who had done no wrong and would not benefit from it.
are among those who have welcomed the raft of recommendations by
the committee on how to change radically the draft mental health
Zigmond, vice-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, pointed
out that the committee's recommendations included that patients
with mental health problems be treated under a same legal framework
as patients diagnosed with physical illnesses.
Zigmond said: "In particular, they will not [if the committee's
recommendations were implemented] be forced to have treatment if
they are fully capable of making decisions for themselves, and they
will only be subject to a mental health order if this will improve
their health care," said Dr Zigmond.
committee said the draft bill placed too great an emphasis on protecting
the public from a small minority of dangerous people with a mental
health diagnosis at the expense of the civil rights of the majority
who pose no risk to others.
MPs and peers said the bill, which includes powers equivalent to
an antisocial behaviour order - enforcing treatment on those who
might be a "nuisance", but do not pose any significant
risk to the public - could be used as a means of social control.
committee chairman, Lord Carlile of Berriew, said: "This is
an important reminder to the government that the bill is fundamentally
is too heavily focused on compulsion and currently there are neither
the financial resources nor the workforce to implement it.
present, the draft bill is too focused on addressing public misconception
about violence and mental illness and does not do enough to protect
Farmer, the chairman of the Mental Health Alliance, which represents
60 mental health groups, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists
and British Psychological Society, said the government should withdraw
the current bill and draw up a new version based on the committee's
committee has clearly listened to service users, carers, professionals
and charities," he said.
Minister Rosie Winterton said the government would consider the
committee's findings she insisted there was a need to strengthen
the law to better protect the public.
addition, the government has used two high profile murders by people
diagnosed with a mental illness to help justify its emphasise on
Peter Bryan, 35, walked out of a psychiatric ward then killed last
year his friend Brian Cherry, 43, before frying and eating part
of his brain.
of Bryan and his victims condemned the mental health system for
releasing him into community care from the high-security Rampton
psychiatric hospital, where he was detained after beating a shop
assistant to death with a hammer.
to Broadmoor psychiatric hospital while awaiting trial for killing
Mr Cherry, he killed another psychiatric patient after he was placed
on a medium-risk ward.
Paul Farmer, chairman of the Mental Health Alliance, said it would
be wrong to use the "appalling case" to push for more
draconian mental health laws before an inquiry into the killings
said: "Before an inquiry is complete, we must not make unjust
assumptions that could put the half a million British people with
severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia at risk of being deprived
of their liberty or being excluded from the rest of society on the
basis of a small number of tragic cases."
Farmer said the findings of previous inquiries into homicides by
psychiatric patients suggested that more resources were needed for
mental health services rather than "a draconian new law".
said: "Laws alone cannot ever take all risk out of the system.
we need a properly resourced mental health care system that listens
to patients and carers when they ask for help; that offers effective
care and support when it is needed; and that can make the best risk
court case came just weeks after John Barrett, diagnosed with paranoid
schizophrenia, admitted stabbing cyclist Denis Finnegan to death
as he cycled through Richmond park in south-west London.
Andy Bell, of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, said
we should be cautious about blaming care in the community.
30 and 50 killings each year out of 800 are by people who are in
contact with mental health services.
has remained constant for years - before and after care in the community
cases of Bryan and Barrett are now the subject of several Department
of Health inquiries.
Joint Parliamentary Committee's report on the draft mental health
government's draft mental health bill (pdf)
7, 2005:Government should rip up draft mental health bill plans,
doctors group urges - British Medical Association tells parliamentary
committee the bill is "unethical, and unworkable"
24, 2005: Members of expert group to advise government on planned
mental health law - hand-picked members to help develop code
of practice on draft mental health bill
16, 2004: Draft mental health bill risks breaching rights of patients
and would be unworkable - parliamentary committee hears
9, 2004: Government publishes revised draft mental health bill
- but it is greeted with universal condemnation from bodies representing
mental health professionals and service users..
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