Dobson acts to sweep mentally ill off streets

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The Independent Online
MENTALLY ILL people who refuse to take their medication and are judged to be dangerous will be seized from the street and placed in secure units under new emergency powers.

Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, will announce shortly that the controversial care in the community policy is to be reversed and the Mental Health Act rewritten.

Money will be allocated to build new institutions around the country to house schizophrenics and other patients. Around 1,000 extra places are expected to be created in small secure units, staffed by nurses around the clock, so that those with acute problems can be kept off the streets.

At the same time, Mr Dobson will set out proposals to improve the monitoring and care of less severe cases, and the law will change to give doctors and social workers new powers to take mentally ill people into care against their will.

New "community treatment orders" will be introduced which will put conditions on patients living in the community and allow them to be sent to a secure unit without being formally "sectioned" under the Mental Health Act. Patients will be required to attend regular check-ups at clinics and could be returned into care if they fail to take their medication consistently.

The proposals, contained in a White Paper to be published within the next few weeks, are an admission that the care in the community programme, introduced by the Tories in 1991, has failed.

Last week an inquiry into the case of Michael Folkes, known as Luke Warm Luke, found that he killed his girlfriend Susan Crawford after failing to take the drugs he was prescribed.

Money will also be invested in "assertive outreach teams" who will monitor patients in the community who could be a risk to themselves or to others. Psychiatric nurses, social workers and health visitors will work together with the police to ensure that the mentally ill are not falling through the net.

The Government is also keen to change the legislation so it covers those with untreatable personality disorders which make them violent. At the moment the Mental Health Act covers only people with "treatable" conditions.

Marjorie Wallace of the mental health charity Sane welcomed the Government's plans but warned: "We cannot go back to the age when [mentally ill people] did not have proper rights."