The Bill has been dropped but has the battle been won?

Four years of fighting the Government's controversial mental health proposals have paid off, but it's not over yet
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Campaigners are vowing to continue their fight for greater recognition of the rights of psychiatric patients, despite forcing ministers to abandon controversial mental health reforms.

They have given a cautious welcome to the news that the draft Mental Health Bill - the subject of a four-year campaign by The Independent on Sunday - is being ditched after attracting the opposition of psychiatrists, politicians, lawyers and patients.

Ministers finally realised that they would face a struggle to get MPs and peers to pass the measures, including forcing treatment on people in the community.

Andy Bell from the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health said he was delighted the Government had listened to concerns from campaigners but said the battle was far from over. "What we need now is a proper process of consultation. We have to have watertight legislation and it has to be of benefit to people."

When it was introduced in 2002, the draft Mental Health Bill was condemned as "unethical" and "unworkable" by the Mental Health Alliance. A special parliamentary committee also said it breached civil liberties. One of the measures that provoked most outrage was the extension of powers of psychiatrists to detain against their will people who had not committed a crime.

David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, insisted that the public needed greater protection from people with personality disorders who could not be locked up because they were considered untreatable. The new reforms changed the criteria for psychiatrists so that anyone who was considered a risk to the public could be detained even if they were "untreatable".

However, campaigners argued that this would lead to thousands of people being locked up against their will, even alcoholics and people with learning disabilities. They said the measures were biased towards protecting the public and not focused on providing therapeutic environments. Another controversial measure was the plan to impose treatment on anyone living in the community, regardless of whether they had a history of being sectioned.

The Government now plans to table a series of amendments to the existing Mental Health Act 1983. This will still include treatment orders but these will apply only to people who have had a history of hospital treatment. Ministers are still insistent on abolishing the treatability criteria but have stated that people with learning disabilities and alcohol problems will be exempt.

Alan Franey, former chief executive of Broadmoor, said he "cautiously" welcomed the decision but had some "serious" concerns. "This should not be taken at face value," he said. "I have serious concerns that the Government may now try to introduce some of the more unsavoury aspects of the draft Bill."

More To Do: What we are still demanding

Although the Bill has now been dropped, we still believe that:

* Mentally ill people should be given treatment that suits their individual needs.

* Hospital trusts should provide enough psychiatric beds so that patients who are eligible for transfer do not have to spend years locked up in high-security hospitals.

* People suffering from mental illness who are able to make their own decisions should have the right to refuse treatment, unless this poses a risk to the public.

* Psychiatrists should lock up people only as a last resort and detain only those who have committed a crime or who would personally benefit from therapy.

* Men and women suffering from mental illness who live in the community should not have treatment forced on them. Instead, they should be offered safe and comfortable sheltered accommodation and the chance to talk to mentors who can offer care and understanding.

Opinion: What our supporters think

Following the Government's decision last week to drop the Bill, we asked professionals in the mental health field for their reactions

This shows that sustained campaigning by the Mental Health Alliance and the 'IoS' won through

Paul Farmer, chair, Mental Health Alliance

The draft Bill was unworkable and unethical. There is an enormous sense of relief

Professor Sheila Hollins, president, Royal College of Psychiatrists

We recognise the law has to change, but the question is: are they really going to change it for the better?

Julia Neuberger, ex-chief executive, King's Fund

Now society works partly in terms of celebrity, if mental health got its Geldof it would be a major thing

Philip Dodd, former director of the ICA

The 'IoS' has been not only supportive but also has helped to highlight the more complex issues

Dr Tony Zigmond, Royal College of Psychiatrists

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