Draft Mental Health Bill – “Unjust and Unworkable”

For details of the new draft Bill 2004 please go to this Department of Health link

“UNJUST AND UNWORKABLE”

Wales’ leading mental health charity slams the new Mental Health Bill published today by the UK Government.

Hafal, the Welsh charity which provides support to people with severe mental illness and their families, has condemned the latest version of the UK Government’s Mental Health Bill as “Unjust and unworkable”.

Hafal’s Chair, Peter Davey said
“Our worst fears have been realised. The Government hasn’t listened and instead has continued to create proposals which will extend compulsion and all the bureaucracy which goes with it. The result will be an unworkable mess which sucks all the resources out of mainstream services”.

Hafal Member, Darryl Stevens said
“As a user of mental health services I can see where this is taking us. Instead of rights to early treatment – which would reduce the need for compulsion – we are just being lumbered with more compulsion. Wales’ fragile and inadequate mental health services will not be able to bear the strain of these proposals”.

Emma Norton, age 36, Hafal Swansea client and volunteer, says
“From my own experience I have found mental health services in Wales to be inadequate and certainly unable to provide the help and support I needed when I first became ill. Both my mother and I were ringing up constantly to try to get help but we were not getting half the help we needed. Now there seems to be no opportunity for improvement and the will to bring about improvement in mental health services in Wales lags way behind other parts of the UK. This new Bill does nothing to guarantee decent services when I need them: it just threatens compulsion when my condition deteriorates”.

Richard Lawson, a 37 year old graduate who attends Hafal Swansea project, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1997. Richard said
“I can personally vouch that this legislation remains wholly unjust. I approached my GP when I first became ill and voluntarily sought help. I was hearing voices and was becoming tempted to self-harm. I was not given any treatment or medication and had to wait weeks for a hospital appointment only to be told my illness was not serious enough to warrant admission. I became more and more ill over the next number of weeks, totally confused, disorientated and actually self-harming. I became so ill that I was sectioned under the mental health act and compelled to go into a psychiatric ward at Cefn Coed hospital where I was kept for four months. I honestly believe that if I had been given the help I needed when I first asked for it, my illness would not have been so severe. Not having the right to early treatment is wholly unjust, an issue which this new Bill again fails to address.”

Chief Executive of Hafal, Bill Walden-Jones said
“Everybody understands that compulsion is needed as a last resort mainly to ensure the safety of those who become seriously vulnerable because of their illness. But compulsory treatment is a messy, bureaucratic business which for obvious reasons damages the trust needed between doctor and patient. The Government has missed an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with patients – the real experts who understand how severe mental illness affects people – with a view to reducing the need for compulsion by ensuring early, effective treatment.

“We are especially concerned that Wales simply has not got the infrastructure to support more compulsory treatment. We have underdeveloped services and an acute shortage of psychiatrists. A legal right to treatment would ensure that patients are helped at an early stage, reducing the distress and cost of leaving illness untreated. That would help to reduce the need for compulsory treatment.

“Hafal has looked carefully at the Mental Heath Act 2003 introduced by the Scottish Parliament. Their legislation was developed careful in liaison with patients and other interested parties. Though there remains some controversy there is nevertheless a degree of consensus in Scotland about the way forward. Of course the National Assembly cannot make law as the Scottish Parliament can but Wales’ devolution settlement only makes sense if Westminster makes laws which work in Wales: without radical change this Bill won’t work in Wales.

“The Government has made much of the “closing of the loophole” concerning the very small number of people with a personality disorder whom the Government believe should be detained without having committed an offence. Hafal has always believed that this matter should be addressed through separate legislation: a Mental Health Bill should be about health.

“Hafal’s clients are interested in looking at the idea for Compulsory Treatment Orders but only if they are used as an alternative to compulsory detention in hospital. Our worry is that they will extend rather than lighten the use of compulsion.

“There are some welcome aspects of the Government’s proposals – for example the provision of advocates to patients is an important step forward. But fundamentally the Bill is flawed and offers no progress from the present out-dated Mental Health Act”.

Professor Phil Fennel, a member of Hafal and Professor of Law at Cardiff Law School says :
“The Bill has serious implications for Hafal members, whether they are carers or service users. Families and carers save the Government billions providing care for their mentally ill relatives, and under the Mental Health Act 1983 they have the right to protect service users against unnecessary use of compulsory powers. The Bill will take away those important rights for families to resist the use of compulsory powers on a loved one who has a mental illness. It is insulting for carers to hear Government praising them for dedicated provision of intensive community care and support, whilst at the same time stripping them of rights to challenge detention or compulsory treatment of their mentally ill loved one. The Bill contradicts Wales’ own National Service Framework for Mental Health which emphasises carer and service user empowerment. How can it be empowering to reduce service users and carers’ rights?”

Hafal will be publishing a detailed response to the Bill in about two weeks. Meanwhile if you want to share your views with us or ask any questions please contact mhbill@hafal.org