Minister in care killings row: Labour attacks 'complacent' statement that attacks by patients in community are rare

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The Independent Online
A HEALTH minister was yesterday accused of 'breathtaking complacency' over his response to a report which revealed that there had been 34 killings by psychiatric patients in the community over three years.

In a radio interview, John Bowis, Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health, that said the report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists confirmed that it was 'extremely rare' for a mentally ill person to kill someone while in contact with specialist psychiatric services or after recently being discharged from full-time supervision.

He said that over the period of the report there had been 1,000 murders, of which between 20 and 30 were committed by the mentally ill.

'Each year some 235,000 people are admitted to psychiatric hospitals, 16,000 of them are sectioned under the Mental Health Act. We have had a drop over the last 10 years from 15 per cent to 11 per cent in the number of murders involving people with mental health problems,' he said on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

'That is not to be complacent. That is to put the context there, and then to go on and say that Virginia Bottomley's 10-point plan must be right.'

However, David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said: 'John Bowis is displaying breathtaking complacency on a very serious matter. The report shows that in many of the cases investigated, there was a failure in support mechanisms, which must be tackled.'

He said a year had elapsed since Mrs Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, published her 10-point plan for care in the community but there had been no real action.

'We were promised legislation to introduce a new system of key workers. It didn't come last year and we haven't been told whether it will be introduced next year,' he said.

Another report published yesterday estimates that at least pounds 500m a year in extra funding from the Government is needed to provide adequate community care services for the seriously mentally ill.

An analysis by the National Schizophrenia Fellowship of facilities and staff required amounts to almost pounds 1bn, but the group is calling on the Government to provide half of this as a matter of urgency.

The Institute of Psychiatrists has also published the first national guidelines for doctors and nurses on dealing with schizophrenia, one of the most common forms of serious mental illness.

Issued after an inquiry by a working party and consultation with 200 clinicians, the guidelines urge GPs to keep a register of patients and operate a recall system to ensure that schizophrenic patients are seen every three to six months, that patients take their medication and comply with treatment and that non- attenders are followed up.

The report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists concluded that 13 killings might have been avoided if doc-

tors and health workers had kept them under closer supervision.

The National Schizophrenia Fellowship's report identifies deficiencies in many areas of care for the mentally ill, including a shortage of community psychiatric nurses, 7,000 social worker job vacancies, and inadequate numbers of psychiatrists - the United Kingdom has only one-third as many psychiatrists as countries such as Australia and the Netherlands.

The report said that many urban acute psychiatric wards are operating at well above maximum occupancy levels; some have 30 per cent more patients than beds.

Another 350 medium-secure beds in regional units are needed, according to a government-appointed committee's own targets set in the Seventies that there should be 1,000 beds of this kind.

The analysis also highlights the lack of supported accommodation in the community and blames this for fact that about one-third of the 500,000 homeless people in Britain are mentally ill.

The report said that more money is needed for medication, respite care, therapists and employment schemes.

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