Mental health reforms `need pounds 1.5bn'

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THE GOVERNMENT needs to inject at least pounds 1.5bn into its care in the community reforms if they are to succeed, a mental health charity warned yesterday.

Other groups said that the Government's tough line on compulsory treatment was likely to cause "uproar" among the mental health community, with many believing the policy will backfire.

The Government will today draw a line under the controversial policy when the Secretary of State for Health, Frank Dobson, publishes the White Paper on mental health.

Reforms include more acute and secure beds in psychiatric hospitals, more trained staff and the introduction of a 24-hour helpline. One of the more controversial plans gives doctors the power to force patients who refuse to comply with treatment to be readmitted into hospital.

It is believed Mr Dobson will announce funding of pounds 185m from social services and pounds 470m from the health service to cover the new plans. But the National Schizophrenia Fellowship said that without a cash injection of at least pounds 500m per year until the end of this Parliament the reforms cannot succeed. "The money we have heard about is only a third of what is needed," said a spokesman. "For the new reforms to work, we have to have the money to provide the services."

He said the Government's tough line was already causing worries for those with mental health backgrounds. "We are getting a lot of calls on our helplines, with people worrying about the `nimby' [not-in-my-backyard] effect. Our projects have done a lot of work to persuade people that those suffering from mental health problems are not dangerous but all this talk of getting them off the streets is endangering that good work."

A spokeswoman for the mental health charity Mind said that compulsory treatment would not work. "What is more it will backfire," she said. "It is people at ground level who will have to deal with this - psychiatric nurses and social workers and they have already said it won't work. We think there will be uproar if the Government try to bring this in."

The proposals signal the Government's determination to reverse the care in the community policy, which has faced criticism after a succession of inquiries. These included the killing of Jonathan Zito by Christopher Clunis, a paranoid schizophrenic, at a London Underground station in 1992, and Jonathan Newby, stabbed by John Rous, a schizophrenic patient in his care at a hostel in 1993.

The mental health charity Sane estimates a homicide is committed each week by a mentally ill person. This is dwarfed, however, by the great harm they do to themselves, with about 1,000 committing suicide every year.

n Two million carers in Britain have been working for years without a break, a survey estimated yesterday.

More than a quarter of people looking after bedridden parents or relatives have never had a holiday, said the report, by the Winged Fellowship charity.

One carer told the charity it was only after she became ill that anyone realised she had been looking after her husband for 10 years without a break. Another had not taken a holiday for eight years.