Watchdog plan endangers mental health safeguards

The work of the watchdog for mental health patients, which is currently uncovering three serious abuses every week, must not be watered down when it is scrapped next year.

That was the warning from the Mental Health Act Commission’s chair, Lord Patel, in evidence last week to the committee of MPs considering legislation to introduce a Care Quality Commission, merging MHAC, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Healthcare Commission.

Patel said that MHAC’s practice of visiting every ward every 18 months and interviewing around 6,000 patients a year had to be maintained by the new organisation, to safeguard detained mental health users.

But he warned: “In any environment where the sole priority is not just detained patients, but all health and social care, that can easily be lost.”

He cited several abuse cases from the second half of 2007, revealed by MHAC’s commissioners, who carry out the visits, at a recent conference. These included a male member of staff photographing a naked female patient in the bath and a disabled patient being restrained and having his arm broken.

He called for the Health and Social Care Bill to stipulate a minimum programme of visits to mental health wards for the new commission.

Patel also called for providers to be placed under a duty to inform the Care Quality Commission about the admission, discharge and death of patients, including details of their age, sex, ethnicity, disability status and faith.

Patel added: “We find out, because of the goodness of these service providers’ hearts, that 300 children are placed in adult wards every year. We do not know whether that is the tip of the iceberg or its entirety.”

CSCI also sceptical about new commission

CSCI chair Denise Platt is a longstanding critic of the planned regulatory merger. Last week, Platt warned MPs that social care, and the voice of service users, could be marginalised in the new structure, notably by health. She suggested that it may be necessary for the Care Quality Commission to have “specific structural safeguards” to ensure that social care issues are not overlooked .

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Mithran Samuel


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