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Mental Health Bill

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The Mental Health Bill is an attempt to improve existing mental health legislation. It is intended to bring in changes to help protect patients and the wider public from harm, to strengthen patient safeguards, help modernise services and tackle incompatibilities with other laws.

It has been in discussion for almost eight years and been the subject of much controversy, so much so, that any changes are still unresolved.

Initially the government published a draft of the Bill in 2002 in an attempt to reform the Mental Health Act 1983 and proposed removing ‘treatability tests’ for detaining people in psychiatric care to make it lawful to detain people with severe personality disorders that are untreatable.

Critics, including the RCN, said this would allow for people to be detained without a sound clinical reason and would be the equivalent of a mental health Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO).

The draft Bill also proposed supervised community treatment orders, meaning people could be forced to have treatment at home.

It also planned to have nurses take on more responsibility, such as work currently carried out by psychiatrists and social workers, under the new roles of clinical supervisor and approved mental health professional.

The government also proposed a new single definition of mental disorder to ensure that it excluded people with drug or alcohol dependency and people with learning difficulties. It also intended to remedy any incompatibility with other Acts such as human rights and civil partnership, which had come along since 1983.

Many mental health nurses and around 70 organisations came together as the Mental Health Alliance to object to the proposals, which remained largely unchanged when the Bill was published again in draft form in 2004. The same objections were made.

In March 2006 the government announced it was to drop the Bill and would instead amend the existing Mental Health Act 1983 to keep some of the draft Bill’s proposals alive such as removing ‘treatability tests’.

The changes mean the supervised community treatment orders will only be issued after an initial period of detention and treatment in hospital.

Proposals were also dropped for mentally ill people to be automatically referred to a mental health review tribunal if they are detained for more than 28 days. People will still be allowed to appeal against their detention at any point.

The definition of mental disorder is also to be re-examined.

The government says a ‘shorter, streamlined’ Bill merely amending the existing legislation should be published before the end of 2006.

Updated: September 2006

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