Politics: Dobson prepares to end care in the community

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The Independent Online
Seriously disturbed psychiatric patients should not be let out of hospital to be cared for in the community, but kept in secure units to protect the public, Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, says today.

While admitting that a return to institutional care would be expensive, he says in an interview in the Daily Telegraph that the cost of the existing system of care in the community was too great in non-financial terms, including "serious injury or death of some totally innocent person" as well as the "quality of life of neighbours."

Mr Dobson does not, however, want to see the return of large mental hospitals. "It would be better if they had people living in much smaller, more homely places but still getting the 24-hour-a-day back-up to help them cope ... Clearly there are some people not capable of living in their own flat."

Paul Boateng, the health minister, is reviewing mental health care to identify the number of people in need of round-the-clock attention. Ministers will then draw up proposals to build new homes or convert old buildings into care centres for psychiatric patients.

The review follows growing concern over the number of patients discharged into the community following legislation introduced by the Tories in 1990. A recent report found that one murder is committed about every two weeks by mentally ill patients and about 1,000 commit suicide each year. The number of beds available for psychiatric patients has dropped from 150,000 in 1960 to 37,000.