Alliance welcomes new Health Secretary and calls for urgent change to Mental Health Bill

28 June 2007

The 77 members of the Mental Health Alliance today welcomed the appointment of Alan Johnson as health secretary and called for an urgent meeting to achieve consensus on the Mental Health Bill.

The Bill returns to the House of Lords on Monday for consideration of the amendments made to it in the House of Commons.

Alliance chair Andy Bell said: "With a new government that promises to listen, we have one more opportunity to create legislation that patients, families, professionals and the wider public can agree is right.

"The biggest concern of patients and families about the Bill is the excessive use of coercion in the community. The new community treatment orders will be the most sweeping in the Western world. Professionals will have to predict which of their patients will not comply with treatment when they leave hospital. These people could then live with the threat of a forcible return to hospital for years at a time.

"This goes far beyond the powers that exist in most countries and goes against the principle of using force only when all other options have been tried.

"We call on the Secretary of State to change the Bill to ensure that no one is put on a community treatment order except as a last resort and that compulsion is used only when people cannot make rational decisions for themselves about their treatment.

"A compassionate Mental Health Bill, that supports both civil rights and public safety, can be achieved. This is the last chance to do that. We hope it will not be ignored."

Earlier this month, the Alliance welcomed government concessions on some other aspects of the Bill. They were to ensure that forcible treatment has the purpose of helping a patient and to give those subject to the Act a right to an advocate.