Timetable for bill remains vague as hint dropped on more consultation

The government is still unable to indicate whether the mental
health bill will appear in the Queen’s Speech in November.

A conference in London last week on mental health was told that
legislation would be dealt with as soon as parliamentary time
allowed. Whether the bill made it into the Queen’s Speech depended
on parliamentary business managers.

The disclosure was made by Antony Sheehan, head of mental health at
the Department of Health and chief executive of the National
Institute for Mental Health in England.

But he did say that, although there were some fundamental aspects
of the bill that would not be changed in a second draft, the
consultation had resulted in some suggestions of amendments to the

He also hinted at more consultation because there were “very strong
plans” for proper scrutiny of the bill.

Sheehan said the proposals for community treatment orders would
increase the choices available for people who needed

“The only choice at the moment is for someone to be taken from
where they are and put in a place they don’t want to be,” he said.

He admitted that as many as one-third of mental health trusts were
suffering severe financial difficulties but insisted that mental
health was “very much” a priority, not just for the DoH but for the
government as a whole.

Paul Farmer, chairperson of the Mental Health Alliance, said there
were still concerns that the draft bill’s proposals would result in
a significant increase in compulsion.

Although the DoH had managed to involve key people in shaping and
delivering services on the ground, it had failed to communicate
effectively with people over the bill, Farmer told delegates.

“On this issue the active dialogue has a long way to go until
people feel they can trust the government. There is a massive
amount of distrust,” he added.

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