A bad Bill has been dropped - but the battle to reform the system goes on

Dr May was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 18, sent to hospital three times within 14 months and told he would have to take medication for the rest of his life. Instead, he found his own way out of his "madness" and no longer has to take drugs, which in his view should only be a short-term solution. His patients are offered acupuncture and tai chi to aid recovery, not locked up in psychiatric hospitals for years.

"What saved me was drama and dance, and people not giving up on me," said the clinical psychologist who works for the NHS in Bradford, West Yorkshire. "Unless we have a holistic approach then we are no better than drug dealers."

The remarkable story of Dr May's mission to change the health system from within was a catalyst for The Independent on Sunday's campaign to improve the rights of the mentally ill. It included demands for ministers to drop controversial measures that would have forced psychiatrists to detain more people against their will, even those who had never committed a crime.

Along with patients, lawyers and psychiatrists, Dr May has always been vehemently opposed to the draconian measures outlined in the draft mental health Bill. The news that the Bill has been quietly shelved by ministers is a victory for this newspaper and for campaigners who denounced it as unworkable because it was geared towards criminalising the mentally ill. Although reforms are still desperately needed, groups such as Mind and the Law Society argue that the emphasis must be placed on looking after patients, not locking more up.

Psychiatrists can already have patients locked up in mental health units on the grounds they may pose a threat to the public or for their own safety. But what provoked outrage was that the new laws were so broadly worded that even people with a mental disorder for which there is no official treatment could have been held on a secure ward.

Ministers saw the Bill as a way to appease the public in the wake of the horrific murders of Lin and Megan Russell by Michael Stone, a former psychiatric patient. David Blunkett, the former home secretary, demanded that civil servants find a way to close what he saw as a loophole preventing those with so-called severe dangerous personality disorders being incarcerated.

Mental health charities argue that the tiny minority of dangerous people in society should be dealt with under criminal laws. Of 900 homicides a year, only between 30 and 50 are committed by people suffering from severe mental illness, and that figure has remained static since records began. If the mental health Bill had become law in its current form, these rare attacks might have increased because desperate people would have shied away from seeking help for fear of being incarcerated in high-security hospitals.

Another measure in the Bill that attracted criticism was the introduction of special orders which would have meant that people risked being sectioned unless they agreed to take regular medication that often has adverse side-effects.

"There is a much more understanding approach now towards mentally ill people who are living in the community, but forcing people to take their medication just alienates them,' Dr May said.

The Bill may have been shelved, but the mental health system is still in urgent need of reform. Improvements have been made but progress is depressingly slow. Ministers have promised to invest £130m in psychiatric services. There have been real changes in the provision of crisis services and of new medicines thathave less debilitating side-effects than old-style psychiatric drugs.

Rethink, which offers support for people suffering from severe mental illness, said improvements were being made but that the biggest problems were still prejudice, ignorance and fear. Services are delivered against "a background of crisis and compulsion". "We have to make sure that improvements are rapid and sustained, and that the public recognises that investment in mental health must continue," said Paul Corry, a spokesman.

The treatment of women is a continuing concern for campaigners. New research reveals that nearly one in 10 of female patients on psychiatric wards report that they have been sexually assaulted while receiving therapy and more than half have been verbally or physically threatened.

One who responded to Mind's WardWatch survey wrote: "I once found a male patient in underpants in my bed. He wandered into the wrong room. I was very scared as I have been raped in the past." These shocking findings, published for the first time, highlight the woeful state of psychiatric wards.

Richard Brook, chief executive of Mind, said: "What we have is a system that is broken and was never going to be fixed by the new proposals [in the Bill]."

Suggested Topics
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice