Letter: Free market in mental health

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YOUR article 'Crisis in mental healthcare forces NHS to use costly private hospitals' (31 July) points to the increasing use by the NHS of private psychiatric beds for patients because beds cannot be found in the state sector.

The private sector is now responsible for 40 per cent of in-patient residential psychiatric care in this country. Responsibility for registration and inspection of private homes lies with local authorities, yet only two of the 28 authorities questioned in a recent survey claimed to have a register. It is hard to fathom how homes can be inspected on this basis.

As far as mental health is concerned, there is no such thing as a free-market solution. That much we should have learned from the early 19th-century scandals which led to the building of state asylums.

Nearly 200 years on, in spite of huge advances in knowledge, we seem to be no nearer a vision of treatment for the mentally ill which, if implemented, would mark us out as a civilised society. Must we really wait for the old wheel to come full circle before we get back to basics?

Jayne Zito

The Zito Trust, London WC2

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