Reform of Mental Health Act is urged

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The Independent Online
SWEEPING changes to the Mental Health Act of 1983 are needed, according to key speakers at a conference in London yesterday.

The Act fails to take account of the shift from confinement of mentally ill people in long- stay institutions to treatment in the community brought about by the Government's care in the community policy, the conference was told.

The conference, organised by the Law Society, the Institute of Psychiatry and the Mental Health Act Commission, is debating whether the Act should be redrawn.

Opening the conference, John Bowis, the health minister, said he had an open mind on the need for a fundamental revision of the Act. He said the philosophy behind it was sound, but sooner or later it would have to be replaced. Commenting on fears that government policy was about to revert to more emphasis on confining people in hospital, he said: 'I can reassure you that we are not interested in putting the clock back to any sort of custodial regime.'

Ian Bynoe, legal director of Mind, the National Association for Mental Health, said he was concerned that compulsory admission procedures for patients were too 'vague and insufficiently defined' and that patients entitled to aftercare services were not getting a thorough assessment of their needs before discharge.

He said the principles behind community care needed to be made explicit in a new Act.

Elaine Murphy, Professor of Psychogeriatrics at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital, London, vice-chair of the Mental Health Act Commission, said the pounds 3bn a year spent on services for the mentally ill appeared to be inadequate, ill-directed and unco-ordinated.

Almost 106 million working days are lost yearly because of mental illness, costing industry pounds 5bn, David Blunkett, Labour health spokesman, told Mind's annual conference in Scarborough.