Mental Health Bill back on the agenda

MPs have been told that the controversial draft Mental Health Bill is likely to be announced in the Queen's Speech this week.

It is understood that ministers have privately indicated that the Bill, which increases the powers of psychiatrists to lock up the mentally ill, will be included in a reworked form.

However, mental health campaigners are still at odds with the Government over the fact that the Bill is expected to focus on public protection and not on the rights of people with mental health problems.

The Independent on Sunday has been campaigning for more than a year for better rights for the mentally ill, who are one of the most stigmatised sections of society and often wrongly labelled as dangerous.

The Mental Health Alliance, whose members include the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Law Society, has branded the Government's mental health reforms "unworkable, unethical and inhumane".

Officials from the Department of Health and the Home Office have been meeting alliance members to seek their support, and have made some minor concessions.

Early drafts that would have compelled psychiatrists to section people with severe personality disorders have been altered so that the powers are merely discretionary.

However, campaigners are demanding further changes. Richard Brook, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said there was a "growing sense of frustration" at the Government's lack of inclination to take on board the advice they have sought.

Mind is planning to distribute the first of a series of briefings to MPs covering the effects that government proposals will have on users of services. The leaflets have been drawn up from meetings with mental health patients.

David Hinchliffe MP, chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, said the new Bill should include a balance between protection of the public and the demands of mental health patients.

"The health committee was of the opinion the balance [of the Bill] had swung too far towards public protection and we felt there should be more safeguards for patients," he said.