Primary care trusts have been given four months to ensure independent mental health advocates (IMHAs) are available across England.
Care services minister Phil Hope confirmed that the advisory service for patients detained or subject to community treatment orders under the Mental Health Act will be available on 1 April 2009.
Under the Mental Health Act 2007, which came into effect on 3 November this year, patients are entitled to access to independent support and advice on their legal rights.
The service is already available in Wales, but ministers postponed implementation in England to give commissioners and voluntary sector organisations more time to prepare.
Hope’s statement accompanied the government’s long-awaited publication of commissioning guidelines on IMHAs.
Campaigners had previously criticised the Department of Health over a lack of guidance on how the service was to be rolled out, and warned that the April deadline could be missed.
Hope said a public consultation on draft regulations had yielded “conflicting views” on who should commission and provide the safeguard.
But after careful consideration, ministers decided that PCTs should be given responsibility, although partnership arrangements with local authorities could be utilised.
Vicki Nash, head of policy at Mind, welcomed the publication of the regulations “after a long period of uncertainty”. But she reiterated the mental health charity’s concerns that the timetable for implementation was “very tight”.
“Commissioning guidance needs to be issued to PCTs as a matter of urgency, if patients are going to be able to access much-needed advocacy services by April,” she said.