Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mental Health Bill

There continue to be a build of press stories attacking the Government's Mental Health Bill.

Meanwhile, the Mental Health Alliance which is in some disarray as 5 key organisations (UNISON, Amicus-CPNA, RCN, BAOT/COT and the British Psychological Society) representing a number of disciplines (Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Psychologists...) and a large majority of mental health professionals have suspended their membership over (see also here for the full press release) the Mental Health Alliance's failure to represent the diversity of opinion of its membership - especially on the issue of renewals of detention where a non-medical professional is the lead clinician involved in a patient's care.

Of course there are always two ways of looking at everything. My own view, though, is that not everything in mental health should be built on the medical model and that many service users could do really well with a nurse, OT or psychologist in charge of their care. There are of course no guarantees, but the chance for service users to develop strong working relationships with their clinicians and inclusing disciplines where the focus can be less on medicaiton and more on social and psychological aspects has to be something we should be supporting in a modern mental health service.

Also the Observer has printed my letter in response to this story which is very much slanted towards the Mental Health Alliance slant on things, though the story (actually heart rending reading) really seems more in support of the Government's plans (they also included a correction stating that Scotland wouldn't be covered by the Bill). There has been so much misinformation in the media exaggerating the impact of the bill in a quite irresponsible way that many people have a completely unrealistic view of what the Government is proposing. I really do start to worry about the impact that all of the MHA's campaigns will be having on scaring people away from seeking help form mental health services which would be a great diservice to people who may need help from mental health services. We all have a responsibility in this area.

The text of the letter is as follows:

We all feel for mentally ill people not receiving the care they need ('Did my sick husband have to die in jail?', News, last week). But I am far from sure that the conclusions this article seeks to draw - that the new Mental Health Bill for England and Wales would inevitably make things worse - were justified by the story.

First, this tragedy occurred in Scotland under legislation which opponents of the government's plans for south of the border hold up as a better guarantee of patients' rights and want to replicate.

Second, the article seems to imply that people who breach their community treatment order in England and Wales will be committed to prison. If true, this would be deeply alarming, but it isn't. Patients who are unwell can only be brought back to hospital.

The mental health campaigners trying to stop the government's bill are actually trying to hold up powers that may in some cases be necessary in keeping people safe while they are unwell.

Craig Nelson


The legislation has now completed its committee stage. There are still a number of issues the Government has said it is considering and the next stages are Report and Third Reading and then ping pong to see how many changes are accepted by the Lords where the Tories and Liberal Democrats are working together on the bill.

Again, there are many areas where the Mental Health Alliance is acting in a well inentioned way and on several areas I support their point of view. They just need to gain a little more balance and realise that in the area of mental health a certain amount of moderation and aherence to accuracy should be observed.

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