Mental health legislation is a wasted opportunity
Posted Friday 17 November 2006
Leading research on compulsory treatment in the community:
"such initiatives give the impression that legislators are addressing the needs of patients...while actually doing very little at all". (1)
Mental health charity Mind is gravely concerned that the Government has continued to ignore expert advice, bringing in legislation that will not provide the care and treatment that is desperately needed by people with mental health problems. Mind calls for preventive action not knee-jerk reaction: services when people first need them, not neglect that allows them to reach crisis state.
The Government's connection of this Bill with yesterday's John Barrett inquiry report has backfired. It joins other headline cases (Michael Stone, Daniel Gonzales, Ismail Dogan) in clearly showing that these rare, tragic events would not have been prevented by the proposed legislation, the focus of which is entirely wrong. Instead, they highlight the real problems that need addressing: system failure, poor communication and/or human error, often resulting from understaffed and overworked services. At a time when mental health services have been the first to suffer from NHS cuts, we need proper funding to provide resource, services and aftercare, not an unworkable compulsory community treatment system.
Mind backs the Mental Health Alliance proposed amendments, asking for:
- the right to mental health assessment when people first approach services
- the right to an advocate when sectioned
and for principles, including non-discrimination, in the Bill to underpin the values driving application of the Act.
These and many other recommendations made by the Parliamentary Joint Committee under Lord Carlile have been omitted of this Bill. We urge everyone to show their concern by joining the Alliance Lobby of Parliament on Tuesday 28 November.
Compulsory treatment in the community: the real story
- Leading research (1) found no evidence of any advantages of compulsion in the community, instead recognising that it might detract from interventions that would help
- Proposals will sweep far too many people up into compulsory treatment unnecessarily, so diverting resources from those who do desperately need help (King's Fund research (2)).
- It risks scaring people away from seeking the help that they may urgently need: research found that it "may damage" the relationship between patients and community mental health services (1).
What would help:
- Research (3) has shown that assertive outreach programmes would help giving people the support and aftercare that they need
- 24-hour crisis services (promised in National Service Framework, 1999)
A recent Healthcare Commission report showed that 51 per cent of mental health service users did not have access to crisis care (out of hours)
- Proper access to primary care: 1 in 4 people report waits of over 18 months after first assessment of mental health problems
Paul Farmer said: "It's quality health services that will protect people, not this legislation, opposed by mental health experts across the board. We hope that the widespread concern in Parliament will lead to the essential changes that must be made to give any chance of providing an effective mental healthcare system. It is vital that health legislation is focused on benefiting and treating health problems. Treatment that cannot improve or treat a person's health, should not be forcibly given to them."
Notes to Editors:
1) The Cochrane Collaboration (leading provider of evidence-based healthcare information): Compulsory community and involuntary outpatient treatment for people with severe mental disorders (Review), 2005
2) King's Fund: A Question of Numbers, 2005
3) Marshall M, Lockwood. Assertive community treatment for people with severe mental disorders, 2003
Mind is a member of the Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of 78 organisations working together to secure better mental health legislation.