Bill Aims To Deal With Dangerous Mentally Ill

Radical plans to speed the sectioning of mental health patients who refuse to take medicine or accept care ran into a hail of protest this week. Ministers published a new Mental Health Bill designed to update 23-year-old laws after a series of cases in which people were killed by mentally-ill patients. The proposals aim to end the so-called “revolving door” patients released from hospital only to end up being re-sectioned after refusing to further help or medication.

Under the provisions, doctors would have the power to ensure such discharged patients are readmitted to hospital quickly. Patients who have been detained in hospital and then released could be subject to supervised community treatment orders.

The Government also intends to use the Bill to close a loophole where patients can only be sectioned if their condition is deemed treatable.

The Bill’s introduction comes a day after a damning report found that the murder of a man by a paranoid schizophrenic with a known history of violence could have been avoided.

An inquiry into the case of John Barrett found that he should never have been given an hour’s leave from a secure unit in 2004, which allowed him to abscond and kill Denis Finnegan in Richmond Park, south-west London.

Moves to reform existing mental health laws were partly driven by Michael Stone’s conviction in 1998 of the murders of Lin and Megan Russell. He was considered a psychopath and therefore untreatable, although a subsequent inquiry noted that those managing his care were divided over his psychiatric condition.

But Tim Loughton, a Tory health spokesman, condemned the Bill as “the Government’s latest attack on civil liberties” and Andy Bell, chairman of the Mental Health Alliance — a coalition of 78 charities, professional bodies and churches — accused ministers of wanting to introduce new powers “without the necessary safeguards for patients”.

“The government argues that requiring a person to be ‘treatable’ before they are detained is a major loophole in the [existing] Act. But there is no evidence that this is the case,” said Mr Bell. “Health legislation should not be used to impose treatment that has no benefit on a patient under compulsion.”

However, the health minister, Rosie Winterton, said that protection for patients and the public was at the heart of the Bill, adding: “This Bill will help ensure that people with serious mental health problems receive the treatment they need to protect them and others from harm. It will also strengthen patient safeguards and ensure human rights are protected. “We are already modernising services, and the Bill is a key part of our strategy to reform and improve.”

The minister also pointed out that, of the 600,000 people every year who received specialist mental health help, only about 14,000 had a disorder that was so serious they needed to be detained in hospital.