Alliance welcomes scrutiny committee report into Draft Mental Health Bill

23 March 2005

"The Government's plans for a new Mental Health Act have reached a dead end following today's scrutiny committee report into its second draft Bill," Mental Health Alliance chairman Paul Farmer said today.

Speaking on the day the report by a committee of MPs and Peers was published, Paul Farmer said: “The Mental Health Alliance now calls on the Government to withdraw its current proposals and consider in detail the committee’s report. We propose that Alliance members, the Government and all political parties now work together to formulate a new Bill that is based on these recommendations.

"The committee has clearly listened to service users, carers, professionals and charities. It has described Government’s proposals as ‘fundamentally flawed’ and warns that the powers in the draft Bill would lead to too many people being treated against their will.

"We welcome the report’s call for compulsory mental health treatment to be used only where there is no alternative; where it has therapeutic benefit; and when the person concerned is unable to decide for themselves about treatment.

"The committee has also clearly understood the stigma that surrounds mental illness and the important role the Mental Health Act should play in improving services and tackling popular prejudices."

Members of the Mental Health Alliance also commented today on the report:

Gil Hitchon, Chief Executive of Maca, said:

"Having submitted its draft Mental Health Bill to a thorough scrutiny the Government has to heed the committee's advice and radically alter its plans for reforming the law. For the past seven years the united voice of the mental health sector has been saying that the proposals are out of step with what is needed. The Government now has to work together with those with experience of mental illness and the organisations providing services to get the legislation right."

Sophie Corlett, Director of Policy at Mind, said:

"It is now high time for the Government to go back to the drawing board. The committee's conclusion is a clear wake up call to supporters of this ill-conceived Bill. It cannot possibly deliver better healthcare for service users. It cannot even deliver better management of the tiny percentage of seriously ill patients who pose a risk to the public. All it can possibly deliver is fear and mistrust among ordinary people who rely on front line mental health services in times of crisis. What they want - and often fail to get - is help and support. The last thing they need are threats to their civil liberties and a health care system in crisis."

Cliff Prior, Chief Executive of Rethink, said:

"The committee's report will be warmly welcomed by people with mental illness and their carers. It's time to bring all parties together and create balanced, workable and ethical leglislation."

Dr Tony Zigmond, Vice-President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

"Patient care is markedly improved when there is a trusting relationship between a patient, their carer and psychiatrist. The draft Mental Health Bill would have undermined that trust. The Joint Committee's recommendations, if adopted by government, would ensure an ethical and practical framework for mental health legislation."

Angela Greatley, Chief Executive of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, said:

"The scrutiny committee has clearly listened to the evidence presented to it and produced a report that sets out a workable way forward for a new Mental Health Act. It rightly states that any Bill will need to have sufficient resources attached to it and clear national standards for staff to follow."

Marjorie Wallace, Chief Executive of SANE, said:

"We continue to fight for a humane mental health system which values compassion over compulsion and protects individuals affected by mental illness by achieving a better balance of rights between service users, their families and carers, and the community. But changing the law alone will not work unless we ensure proper care and treatment, which are still so often lacking. The government needs to make good the desperate shortage of doctors, nurses, skilled front-line staff and supervised accommodation, whether in hospital or the community, if patient and public trust in the mental health system is to be restored."

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said:

"The Government should now withdraw its discredited Bill. It has a once-in a generation opportunity to improve the lot of those who use mental health services, and drive mental health care up the political and social agenda. Service users, professional organisations and charities have been and remain very willing to work constructively on a better way forward for everyone."

Notes to Editors