The deadline for rolling out independent mental health advocates across England may be missed due to delays at the Department of Health, it has been claimed.
Mental health charity Mind says a lack of funding and guidance from government has left local authorities and NHS trusts working “in the dark” as they struggle to prepare for the launch in April 2009.
Under the Mental Health Act 2007, which comes into effect in England and Wales on 3 November, anyone detained or subject to a community treatment order is entitled to a trained advocate. The safeguard will be available to patients in Wales immediately but the DH postponed the roll-out in England until next April to give commissioners and providers more time to prepare.
But Richard Webb, chair of the mental health network at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, warned the DH was “working to tight timescales”.
Anna Bird, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, which fought to include the safeguard in the act, said commissioners didn’t know how the £8m service would be funded.
“We still haven’t seen the commissioning guidelines, a budgeting announcement or a commitment from the government to ensure the training will be finished by April,” she said.
Jim Symington, national lead on legislation at the National Institute for Mental Health in England, said: “It would help to see the commissioning guidelines.”
The institute supports the legislation roll-out. Symington will issue practical guidelines on independent mental health advocacy when the government’s policy guidance is published. He said commissioners were preparing for advocacy services by assessing the needs of their local population before moving on to tendering and recruitment in December.
A DH spokesperson said commissioners and providers were on track to meet the April deadline. Commissioning arrangements would be announced “shortly”, with a statement on budgeting arrangements due before the end of December.
• Expert information on mental health at www.communitycare.co.uk/48118