New mental health bill may be too late campaigners warn

Mental health charities in Scotland are concerned that next
year’s elections could obstruct the introduction of a new act to
protect people with mental health problems, writes
Nicola Barry

The new mental health bill, published for debate in parliament
this week, has taken a total of three years to get to this stage,
and now the Scottish Association for Mental Health fears
legislation might be delayed even further.

SAMH chief executive Shona Barcus warned that March 2003 was the
cut-off point for any new legislation ahead of next May’s Scottish
parliamentary elections.

“It seems ironic that such a crucial piece of legislation has
only got six months to make its way through parliament,” she said.
“If everybody does not agree on its content by next March it could
be too late and we may not have a new act – even after all

“Barcus added: “Whilst the proposals are not as draconian as the
new legislation being proposed south of the border, there are areas
causing us great concern.”

Controversial areas include the introduction of new powers to
compel people to take medication in the community and the need for
greater safeguards around the use of psychiatric treatments like
electro-convulsive therapy and neurosurgery for mental

There is also a need to invest in community mental health
services to ensure compulsory interventions are kept to a
But Barcus added that many of the proposals in the new bill were
widely supported, including the introduction of tribunals to
replace the role of sheriff courts in “sectioning” patients, and
the introduction of a new right for service users to nominate a
named person who can protect their interests.

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