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Lords consider mental health laws

BBC
Monday, January 8, 2007

The House of Lords is to begin detailed consideration of proposals to introduce tougher mental health laws.
The new government bill would allow the enforced detention of people who are mentally ill, even if they have not committed any crime.

It also suggests strengthening powers established in 1983 to ensure patients have therapy once they are released back into the community.

Critics of the bill say it would fail to safeguard the rights of patients.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said the bill would reflect changes to mental health services in recent years.

"We have made it very clear in the bill that appropriate treatment has to be available for detention to take place," she said.

Ensure medication

Current laws do not allow people with severe personality disorders who have committed no offence to be detained.

The government wants to give the right to force patients who have been released into the community to take their medication, even if they do not want to.

It also wants to detain people with personality orders who are described as untreatable, even if they have not committed a crime.

Doctors and campaigners argue the bill erodes the rights of patients without making the public any safer.

About 50 Labour MPs have already signalled their intention to oppose the bill, which would apply to England and Wales.

The changes would affect about 14,000 of the 600,000 people who use mental health services each year.

Professor Sheila Hollins, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said the bill would not help all people with mental health problems.

"I think the idea that somehow this bill is going to prevent homicides and violent assaults is a mistake.

"In some ways there is a possibility that by increasing stigma associated with mental illness we will actually deter people from coming forward."

Added power


Wendy Robinson, whose daughter was killed by a schizophrenic, said more needed to be done to identify potentially dangerous people before they caused harm.

"A lot of people are not picked up, they are not taken in and treated before something goes wrong.

"I do think there needs to be an added part of the law where they can actually take somebody in, section them and look after them."

She added: "As the mother of a victim, the victim is not taken away and looked after - that person is taken to a mortuary.

"That is the reality for people who are having to deal with people who are killed unnecessarily."

Previous bills

The bill was promised in the Queen's Speech and comes after previous attempts to change the act were thwarted by opposition from campaigners and doctors.

The government published a draft Mental Health Bill in 2002, but dropped it last March.

Instead of replacing the old laws, the latest bill proposes amending the existing act from 1983.

The desire to change the law was largely driven by Michael Stone's 1998 conviction for the brutal murders of Lin and Megan Russell.

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