Health secretary Alan Milburn confirmed last week that the draft
Mental Health Bill would be included in the coming parliamentary
session despite its omission from the Queen’s Speech.
He insisted that the government would press ahead with mental
health reform to update current laws. “It is about how, from a
system fundamentally based on 1950s legislation, to get a better
balance between safeguarding individual patients’ rights and
protecting the community as well as individual patients,” he told
the House of Commons.
Milburn said it was “palpable nonsense” that current legislation
did not allow compulsory treatment in the community. Currently,
doctors have to wait until people become so ill that they are a
threat to themselves or others before they are admitted to hospital
for compulsory treatment.
Although, the campaigning coalition Mental Health Alliance has
welcomed the government’s change of tack on updating mental health
legislation, it remains concerned about aspects of the draft bill
appearing in any final version.
Earlier last week, health minister Jacqui Smith faced a hostile
reaction to the draft bill’s proposals when she addressed the
annual conference of mental health charity Mind.
A group of nine protesters – all service users and members of Mind
– mounted the platform carrying banners depicting the slogans “We
are not dangerous”, “Shame on you minister”, and “Compassion not
compulsion”. Smith was also booed and heckled by the audience.
Smith defended the bill, but admitted that it needed further
consideration. “I don’t subscribe to the view that there is nothing
important or positive in the bill,” she said. “We need to consider
what to do to turn the current bill into one that can be introduced
to parliament, but we won’t be going back to scratch.”
Smith denied that the government’s plans were about more people
being subject to compulsory treatment, but argued that there were
“currently people who would benefit themselves and society if it
was possible for them to be treated under compulsion”.
She added that people with personality disorders would not be
treated differently from other mental health service users in terms
of assessing need for any such compulsory treatment.