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UK Mental Health Reforms Will Do More Harm Than Good, Critics Warn

The British House of Commons has begun the second reading of the controversial Mental Health Bill//.

The bill is the government's third attempt in eight years to reform the 1983 Mental Health Act.

It seeks to amend the existing legislation on the matter to ensure that patients continue to take medication following discharge and to prevent relapses.

Under the proposed laws some psychiatric patients discharged from hospital will be subject to community treatment orders (CTOs) which make care and treatment compulsory.

Those undergoing supervised community treatment will have to comply with a specified regime which, campaigners say, will place unnecessary restrictions on their civil liberties.

Sophie Corlett, an official of the advocacy group Mind, said: 'The claim that supervised community treatment will help people get the treatment they need is, at best, misleading.

'People are routinely turned away from over-stretched mental health services, even when they're desperately seeking help, and no amount of legislation will change this.'

The new bill would also enable the authorities to detain people with personality disorders who have not committed a crime.

The government's contention is that every year around 55 to 60 murders are committed by mental health patients, and the provisions in the bill are aimed at reducing the number of such tragedies.

The bill has drawn a lot of flak particularly over the deletion of the 'treatability clause'.

By stressing that the untreatable too be taken care of by the community, the government is frittering away the already scarce resources available for mental health, critics assert.

'Psychiatric hospitals are likely to rapidly fill with these people with the concomitant reduction in services available to all other patients. Wales has a legacy of under funding and poor resourcing of mental health services and will, therefo re be disproportionately affected by the diversion of resources away from ordinary patients into these statutory provisions,' a noted psychiarist has observed.

As it happened the clause was deleted after the murder of Lin Russell and her six-year-old daughter Megan in Kent in 1996. Their killer, Michael Stone, had been left free to commit the crime because his severe personality disorder was considered untreatable and he could not be detained under the present Mental Health Act.

Some MPs find the bill 'too draconian' and say it should be about treatment rather than punishment. Mental health law should be about mental health not criminal justice, they stress.

But Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt insists, 'Modern medicine and clinical practice has shifted the whole focus of care into the community and the law needs to follow.' She has also refused to countenance any of the amendments proposed by the House of Lords.

However, activists like Sophie Corlett point out, 'Only if the Government invested properly in mental health - in assertive outreach teams, in psychotherapists, in inpatient care, and in anti-stigma campaigns, everything that experts say is essential - might we expect people to get the help they need. Instead, they are ploughing ahead with a Mental Health Bill that will harm rather than help patients'.

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