Draft bill dumped but campaigners fear compulsion will still increase

Campaigners have welcomed the abandonment of the Mental Health Bill but warned that the government’s alternative plans could still extend the use of compulsory treatment.

After months of speculation, health minister Rosie Winterton announced last week that the government would amend the Mental Health Act 1983 rather than introduce a new bill.

Controversial plans to introduce compulsory treatment in the community will be watered down, with powers only applicable for patients discharged from hospital.

But the new plans retain a commitment made in the bill to remove the requirement for compulsory powers to have a therapeutic benefit, replacing it with the need for “appropriate treatment” to be available.

The government argues that the new powers are needed to detain people with difficult-to-treat and dangerous personality disorders, or people who claim that their refusal to co-operate with treatment makes them untreatable.

The Mental Health Alliance, which campaigned against the bill, said its members would be “heartened” that the government had abandoned its previous plans for a bill.

But it warned that removing the “treatability” test risked extending compulsory powers unnecessarily. A spokesperson said the alternative  “appropriate treatment must be available” test was “terribly vague”.

Rethink chief executive Cliff Prior said the government was trying to present the removal of the treatability test as a way of helping people but that could better be done by introducing a legal right to care and treatment.

And he criticised plans to stick with the current mental health tribunal system, with the government dropping a proposal in the bill to limit waiting times to 28 days.

The omission from the new plans of a statutory right to advocacy also drew criticism from campaigners, who urged the government to consult widely on its proposals.

The proposed amendments will press ahead with plans to replace approved social workers with approved mental health professionals, and introduce a single definition of mental disorder to replace the current outdated categories of mental illness.

Winterton said she hoped to introduce the new measures in this parliamentary session, which ends in October, and that a new race equality impact assessment on the legislation would begin immediately.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.