Straw warns psychiatrists

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is considering taking action to force psychiatrists to modernise their practices in the wake of the conviction of Michael Stone for the murders of Lin and Megan Russell.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, surprised the Commons yesterday with a vehement attack on the psychiatric profession for refusing to take on patients like Stone unless they were regarded as "treatable". Mr Straw said the Government was urgently considering changes in "law and practice".

The jury at Maidstone Crown Court heard after finding Stone guilty on Friday that he had a long history of behavioural problems, but could not be ordered to be detained because his condition was judged to be untreatable.

The case led to renewed criticism of the Tories' drive to close large- scale institutions and put more mental patients out to care in the community without sufficient support.

Mr Straw said he agreed with Louis Blom Cooper QC that one of the problems was the change in the practice of psychiatrists over the past 20 years from a "common sense" approach to a narrow definition of the cases they would accept.

It was "quite extraordinary" they would only take on patients regarded as "treatable", the Home Secretary said."It's time frankly that the psychiatric profession seriously examined their own practices and tried to modernise them in a way that they have so far failed to do."

A joint working party between the Home Office and Health Department is examining urgently a change in the law to plug gaps in the treatment of patients with personality disorders.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "Personality disorders do not qualify as a mental disorder. That means people fall outside the mental health legislation. They may have to deal with that by the penal system. That is one of the issues being considered by the joint working party."

Before Stone came to trial a review of the Mental Health Act was announced by Paul Boateng, the minister responsible for mental health policy.