Prince adds weight to community care fears

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The Independent Online
THE PRINCE of Wales shares the widespread concern over the Government's care in the community policy, under which several people suffering from severe mental illness have been released from hospital and have killed at random while at liberty.

In an intervention likely to increase the pressure on Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, to tighten controls, the Prince's worries about closing mental institutions without adequate alternative facilities have been passed to the Independent.

He fears that mentally ill patients are being denied adequate support in the community and that as a result, the public are unprotected. He is concerned about the lack of co-ordination between psychiatrists, social workers, GPs, health visitors, community nurses, carers and patients.

His views were revealed - on the record - by a senior member of his staff after the Independent highlighted the case of Christopher Clunis, a paranoid schizophrenic who killed Jonathan Zito, an Italian musician, in a random attack on a London railway station platform.

He had recently been discharged from Guy's hospital, after six years of drifting in and out of hospitals, with no immediate psychiatric or social work follow-up and despite his known history of violence.

On Monday, the Independent repeated calls for a public inquiry into the Clunis case and community care.

The call has been backed by opposition MPs and mental health groups including Sane, the charity which runs a helpline for schizophrenics and their families. Marjorie Wallace, its chief executive, has written to the Prime Minister asking for a public inquiry. She has also joined Labour in seeking a moratorium on the closure of beds and hospitals until adequate alternative facilities are in place.

Prince Charles is a patron and active supporter of Sane, and although he cannot publicly back its campaign for an inquiry, as this would be seen as entering the political arena, he was keen to echo the strength of the charity's worries.

Yesterday, in a carefully worded statement, a palace spokeswoman said: 'The Prince of Wales shares Sane's concern, both for the inadequately supported patient and for the protection of the public.'

Prince Charles had expressed his worries about Community Care in a discussion with Mrs Bottomley during a previously unpublicised visit they both made, at his request, to a hostel for homeless mentally ill people, in Whitechapel, east London, in January.

A Department of Health spokesman confirmed that Prince Charles discussed community care with Mrs Bottomley, and the lack of 'move on' accommodation to make way for new patients.

Last year, as president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, he established seven Prince of Wales Educational Fellowships to develop 'primary care'. One is to improve liaison between agencies caring for mentally ill people.