Health minister Rosie Winterton has done everyone a favour by dropping the Mental Health Bill, but the danger now is that she sneaks in by the back door what she has let out of the front. The government wants to amend the Mental Health Act 1983 instead, a better idea in principle but only if it is properly handled.
Although proposals for compulsory treatment in the community have been reined back, those for compulsory detention of people with personality disorders are still far too vague to pass the civil liberties test. Detention would be allowed provided “appropriate treatment” was available, which campaigners say is a much weaker criterion than the evidence of therapeutic benefit now required.
The Department of Health has responded to the resource pressures on mental health tribunals by dispensing with the proposed 28-day time limit on hearings, while also omitting a statutory right of advocacy from the new plans. Dropping the bill was certainly one in the eye for the Daily Mail inspired “public protection” lobby. But the government has a long way to go before it can call itself a friend to mental health.
● See Special Report on Mental Health Plans