Call For Assembly To Reform Mental Health Laws

The “substandard” services for the one in four people in Wales who have a mental health problem were exposed yesterday.

Outlining his argument for Wales to have the power to make its own mental health laws, Shadow Health Minister Jonathan Morgan revealed how patients with psychological illnesses suffer long delays for treatment, compared with those with physical ailments.

Mr Morgan said he wanted to see patients have timely access to treatment in a therapeutic setting before compulsion became the only option.

He told the Senedd, which yesterday approved his plan, “The rights of patients are few and far between and the services available in many cases are substandard.

“Imagine them waiting weeks, perhaps months, for a diagnosis and then not getting the necessary assessment and treatment.

“Imagine that patient unable to access independent help and advice and not being able to convince the medic of the help they need.

“Imagine that patient being forced to accept that their individual preferences be ignored because the NHS didn’t intervene early enough. Now imagine that patient is suffering from cancer. It all looks very different when we think of services for those with a physical condition.

“If one in four of the population with a physical condition received care which was regarded as substandard then there would be an outcry, but because we are dealing with people whose condition is psychological the lack of services becomes almost easy to ignore.”

Mr Morgan, the Conservative AM for Cardiff North, believes that reforming mental health legislation could be the “last great social reform” in Wales.

Although health has been devolved to the National Assembly for the past eight years, Parliament still retains the authority to make new mental health laws.

The UK Government’s last attempt to reform the Mental Health Act was widely criticised by charities and human rights organisations because it would make it easier to detain people and force them to undertake treatment, whether or not they had committed a crime. Experts have argued that such an approach would divert valuable resources away from the vast majority of patients to the small minority who have untreatable personality disorders.

Mr Morgan, who won a Private Member’s Bill-style ballot to propose a legislative competence order to transfer law-making powers on mental health from Westminster to Cardiff Bay, said, “This request for new Welsh laws is not intended as a criticism of the work done by Parliament in the recent Act, nor is it an attempt to cross over into criminal justice field. It is a very precise request to allow the Assembly to add something extra to the current legislative framework.

“While my proposed law would allow the Assembly to legislate to achieve these new rights, we need to think beyond legislation. This should be seen as the first step towards better services for those with a mental illness.

“In the field of mental health reform, Wales could lead the way, thinking beyond the current legislation and beyond what was achieved in Scotland.

“We could give people real security recognising that those with acute mental illness deserve to be treated as well as, or better than, any other patient dealt with by the NHS, and who often struggle to stand up for themselves.

“A 21st century Wales does not need to continue with a 19th century system of mental health services, and, for us as an Assembly, we should grasp the opportunity to start the last great social reform.”