Groups ready to fight after accusing government of advocacy ‘betrayal’

The scrapping of plans to establish a right to advocacy for people detained under mental health powers has been branded a “betrayal” and has become a key battleground in the government’s revised legislative proposals.

Campaigners say reintroducing advocacy will be their top lobbying target when fresh plans are introduced, and that they are “stunned” the government has ditched one of the few elements in the draft Mental Health Bill that they considered positive.

The Department of Health announced last month it would scrap the controversial bill and instead amend the Mental Health Act 1983 (Draft bill dumped but campaigners fear compulsion will still increase , 30 March).

But it has abandoned the advocacy right and a pledge to improve the mental health review tribunal system, both of which had the support of mental health groups, and retained hated plans to subject people to compulsory treatment without any therapeutic benefit.

Action for Advocacy director Rick Henderson said having someone independent on your side while under section was crucial and the government’s decision felt like a betrayal.

He said: “We are just stunned. What may well have happened here is the worst parts of the draft bill will find their way into an amended act and the best parts won’t.”

Mental Health Alliance policy lead Tim Spencer-Lane said: “To drop that really felt like a slap in the face for a lot of groups. When the amended bill is published that’s the main area we will be lobbying for them to put back in there.”

The DH has said it hopes to promote advocacy outside the planned legislation (news, page 13, 6 April) but Spencer-Lane argued a vague service framework would never be as strong as a legal duty.

Meanwhile, Mental Health Review Tribunals, which review the cases of people who have been detained, have been given new performance indicators as part of their move from the jurisdiction of the Department of Health to the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

For section three cases, which relate to people detained for six months initially, the average time taken from receiving a tribunal application to receiving a written decision should be five weeks. Spencer-Lane said the current average was six to eight weeks.

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