Letter: Appalling conditions

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The Independent Online
Sir: 'Watchdog finds overcrowding, understaffing, suicides and regime of 'minimal therapy' ' - so runs the subheading on your report on the care of the mentally ill (11 December). These facts, though appalling, are not new; nor do they apply only to mental hospitals. We have also become accustomed to reports of understaffing, neglect and abuse in children's homes; understaffing, overcrowding, bullying and suicides in prisons and juvenile detention centres.

Is it not time to apply the concepts of the Citizen's Charter to these institutions? Minimum standards of accommodation, staffing and treatment should be established by law, and inmates should have the right to sue if the standards are not observed. But since most inmates are not in a position to initiate legal action, there should also be an official agency with powers of inspection and prosecution.

These powers should not affect only the particular institutions found to be deficient, since many are doing their best with quite inadequate resources. The agency must also have powers to indict the sponsoring government departments and through them the Treasury, and so to compel the supply of the resources required to meet the standards.

Yours faithfully,

STEPHEN PLOWDEN

London, NW1

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