Friday, June 15, 2007

Govt moves on Mental Health Act - gives credit to UNISON

Press release here detailing Government amendments to the Mental Health Bill which represent significant movement and go a long way to meeting campaigners' legitimate concerns in a number of areas.

UNISON along with other trade unions are specifically mentioned as having made representations to the Government (on the issue of Supervised Community Treatment).

So far as I can tell, the Mental Health Alliance put up a statement welcoming these changes, then took it down again and then put one back up saying, amongst other things:

Our members will welcome the fact that the Government has begun to listen to and act upon the concerns of the people who live and work with the Mental Health Act. We hope that today’s changes mark the beginning of a new government approach to this issue that will lead to a genuine consensus before the Bill becomes law.

We believe that the Government and the Mental Health Alliance can still work together to deliver a new Act that is defensible and workable.

Is this the opening of a genuine era of co-operation breaking out? Given the Tories and Liberal Democrats have their minds seriously set on mauling the Government (of course that is the role of opposition parties, so I'm not criticising them for that) I harbour some doubts - we may be in for a very long ping pong.

The Mental Health Alliance is still wanting exclusions which are, in my view, patronising toward LGBT people and suggests that in some way being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans is a mental illness. We all know this isn't the case, so the exclusion is unhelpful as it suggests the opposite.

Firstly being of one sexual orientation would never be able to meet the stringent tests contained in the Mental Health Act for compulsory admission, secondly because the law in Council of Europe countries on sexual orientation and gender identity is actually very clear and thirdly because UK legislation is explicit in recognising the legitimate existence of LGBT people (examples including Civil Partnerships, Gender Recognition, protection from discrimination in employment, goods and services and in the exercise of public functions - including acts under the Mental Health Act and finally the Bill contains 'fundamental principles' including non-discrimination and the least restrictive alternative.

Empty scaremongering versus equality

But at the same time some of the professional groupings in the Alliance (especially Psychiatrists) could do a lot more to promote services that are supportive to LGBT people and do more to challenge discriminatory attitudes that still abound in psychiatric practice.

No, not trying to lock you up for being gay but not really listening to you either, or not creating a safe environment for LGBT people (staff and clients) to be out or always seeing a person's sexual orientation or gender identity as the case of their mental distress, even when it has nothing to do with it.

Rather than joining in the scaremongering we should be demanding that as professionals in charge of NHS care we start to put our own house in order.

For the Government's pages on LGBT equality in the NHS (the Department of Health's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advisory Group) with some fantastic material the Government is producing on sexual orientation and gender identity.

There's some really great stuff there, but as we all know getting it put into practice when discriminatory attitudes go very deep is the real challenge. So in addition to all of the Government's other progress in dealing with discrimination, there is an urgent need to extend the equality duty to cover all strands of equality inlcuding sexual orientation and gender identity.

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