Letters: Mental health laws

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The Independent Online

No need for new mental health laws; the present ones work

Sir: The Zito Trust is mistaken to suggest that the community treatment orders proposed in the Queen's Speech will fill a gap in the legislation (Letters, 18 November); there are already two provisions in the Mental Health Act that can be used to require unrestricted patients to comply with treatment.

Consequences of for non-compliance will be much the same with the new power as with the old ones: re-admission to hospital. It is not being proposed that a person subject to one of these orders can be compulsorily medicated other than in hospital.

Generally speaking, compliance with treatment in the community is achieved through trusting relationships between people with mental health problems and the professionals who treat them.

Sometimes, much time and effort is needed to create such a relationship, and if it is impossible to form such a relationship with someone who is thought to pose a risk to themselves or others, the criteria for compulsory admission to hospital will be met.

The reality is that case-law, particularly since the implementation of the Human Rights Act, has filled in all the "public protection" gaps that had previously been identified in MHA. It is a great pity that the time, effort and money that have gone into producing two failed draft Bills and now these pointless and off-putting amendments to the MHA have not been spent instead in giving mental health services the resources, including leadership and inspiration, that they actually need and that would actually limit the harm caused to mental health service users and others by the inadequate treatment of mental illness.

Focusing on new laws is a distraction which diverts attention from the real issues.



Weakness in case for armed police

Sir: Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur (Letters, 13 November) invites us to empathise with armed police as they make the split-second decision whether or not to shoot and kill, but there is a weakness in his defence.

If, instead of putting myself in the shoes of an armed policeman, I imagine myself as a totally innocent man carrying a repaired table-leg in a bag, and hearing the cry, "Armed police! Stand still! Drop what you are carrying and put your hands up!", what do I do?

I have no reason to believe that the cry is directed at me. I look or turn round, therefore, to see what the commotion is about and to check that I heard correctly. But Harry Stanley turned round and was shot dead. Suppose, as I turn, I raise the bag to say something like, "But it's only a table-leg".

Most people confronted by armed police do realise they are the object of the police attention and so can take the appropriate action. But the innocent are a different matter.

The assistant commissioner wishes innocent people to recognise instantly that a cry of "Armed police" must be understood and acted on immediately. He does not allow for real life; some people, taken by surprise, do not understand or cannot believe that they are the object of police interest. They pay for this with their lives.



Fox-hunting is a moral outrage

Sir: It is a moral outrage that hunting folk, many of them privileged, take pleasure from the torture and death of an animal, and also escape prosecution for breaking our laws so openly (Letters, 21 November).

But this outcome is not so surprising, given that the legislation to ban hunting with dogs was fatally flawed because it did not tackle this moral question. The ban should have been based on the premise that humans find the torture and killing of animals for pleasure or as a sport to be morally wrong and unacceptable in a civilised society.

I believe that repugnance for hunting is growing, and I fervently hope more and more will speak out in favour of consigning one of our last barbaric pursuits to the dustbin of history.



Sir: Your leading article (20 November) restates Countryside Alliance spin regarding the number of hunt followers. There is no evidential basis for believing that numbers have increased. I have monitored about 40 hunts since September 2005 and it is clear that in the West Country, support has decreased since the ban. Two weeks ago a mounted follower of the East Devon Hunt admitted to me that "we do not get the numbers we used to".



Sir: There is a simple way to enforce the law on fox-hunting which is being openly disregarded by the hunting fraternity; prosecute the landowners who permit animal cruelty on their property. Even the police should be able to manage that.



Animal testing is a vital research tool

Sir: Kathy Archibald (Letters, 18 November) seeks to lay the blame for the failure of drugs such as Vioxx on animal testing, but omits to mention that all these drugs also passed extensive clinical trials in humans before being approved. These clinical trials, involving many times the number of individuals than in the animal tests, also failed to pick up the problems which led to the drugs being withdrawn.

The reason for this is that such problems are usually rare or subtle, or, occasionally, were not looked for in either the animal tests or human clinical trials. If we are to follow her logic, clinical trials in humans are unreliable and should be abolished, an absurd proposition.

Dr Irwin Bross is entitled to his opinions, though you'll find few oncologists or cancer research scientists who agree with them. According to Cancer Research UK, "a great deal of cancer research is carried out without using animals. In certain areas, however, animal research remains essential if we are to understand, prevent and cure cancer".

I don't claim that animal tests are by themselves sufficient to guarantee the safety of new drugs; that would be as wrong as to claim they are responsible for all problems with medicines. Animal testing, as a tool for uncovering biology's secrets and a necessary precursor to clinical trials in humans, remains vital for the development of safe and effective new medicines.



Sir: Joanna Selwood makes assumptions in her appraisal of animal testing (Letters, 18 November), but as someone who has both worked in the industry and evaluated it, I take issue with the claim that "alternatives" are used whenever possible.

I observed colleagues working extensively on rabbits to develop monoclonal antibodies, despite the non-animal method being agreed to be cheaper, quicker and more accurate. Cell-culture toxiocological methods are revealed to be more accurate than use of animals to reveal side-effects of drugs, but animal use in this area has not altered in response.

Three non-animal methods for detecting drugs which damage the foetus have been verified and accepted; one alone is more accurate than the use of all animal methods combined. Still, we test on animals to find teratogenic drugs.

Adding brain scans, microdosing, DNA chips, technological methods, drug-test mannikins and a spectrum of computer methods reveals an attractive range of methods which should be used instead of animal methods simply because they are more accurate. They aren't used, and patients suffer as a result.



Israel does use human shields

Sir: Your correspondent, Dr Denis Maceoin (Letters, 21 November) appears to have forgotten that the Palestinians are under siege in their walled-in enclaves due to Israel's occupation of their land, not the other way around.

Palestinians, sometimes children, are regularly forced at gunpoint to act as human shields for the Israeli army when they conduct searches and raids, preparatory to house demolitions, F-16 attacks and kidnappings.



Sir: Denis Maceoin's information is flawed. Israeli soldiers, too, have often used human shields. They use Palestinians.

In four years, Israelis have, against international law, demolished 60,000 Palestinian homes, killed 3,600 Palestinians, wounded 50,000, arrested or kidnapped 30,000, bulldozed a million olive trees, and stolen 900,000 donums of the most fertile land and 89 per cent of the water.



Hospital chief is investigating

Sir: I write in reference to the diary of Janet Street-Porter's sister, Patricia Balsom, in your paper (16 November). As chief executive of the hospital which featured in Mrs Balsom's diary, I welcome informed debate or feedback on any issue that patients feel concerned about. We regularly collate information of this nature and make improvements to change the patient experience for the better.

However, in this case we have been subjected to trial by The Independent where numerous articles have been published from a subjective perspective either through the original diary or editorial comment by Janet Street-Porter, none with a right of reply from this Trust.

A meeting was held with Mrs Balsom and her family before she passed away where we apologised for the clear distress she felt during her stay at this hospital, and a few issues were raised which I will be addressing. There are, however, significant factual errors in both the diary and subsequent articles which are misleading and sensationalist.

One example is the gamma knife treatment. Although this is an exciting technology, its role in clinical practice is limited. It was felt in this case that there was no clinical advantage over standard treatment offered, and financial considerations did not influence this decision.

Mrs Balsom was well-supported by a lung clinical nurse specialist and oncologist. As outpatient visits would have been difficult, the patient wanted care in the community. It was explained at the time of discharge that she would be supported by carers, a district nurse and a MacMillan nurse. The MacMillan nurse would involve the GP, palliative care consultant or oncologist as appropriate. The implication that she was unsupported is frankly inaccurate.

I will therefore leave it with your readers to make up their own minds about what has been the motive behind this public trial of what on the whole is an organisation that provides high standards of care to its patients.





Theatre's pride in Connie's Maria

Sir: While Connie Fisher has become the people's Maria ("Problem solved", 18 November), it would be accurate to note that she was a member of the Nat-ional Youth Music Theatre from 1992 until 2002.

Like the people who voted, NYMT knows when it spots excellence, and we are proud to have helped Connie in the early part of her career.



Funny, that

Sir: The reluctance of gentlemen to open ladies' handbags (Letters, 21 November) could explain why there are so few handbag jokes.



Iraq inquiry call

Sir: I note that in the past two days or so, more than 100 Iraqis have died. Which means about 1,000 Iraqis have lost a close relative. How can Tony Blair say an inquiry is not necessary? And how can 350 apparently decent Labour MPs support him? One is reminded of Rudyard Kipling after his son died in the First World War: "If any question why we died, tell them because our fathers lied." Substitute "leaders" for "fathers".



Walden's agreement

Sir: Pandora said it was unfortunate that George Walden's letter regarding our columnist Suzanne Moore was changed before being published in The Mail on Sunday (15 November). Mr Walden's original letter stated that Ms Moore had unprofessionally commented on his book without reading it. We asked the former MP's permission for the change, to make it clear Ms Moore was commenting on the extracts serialised in the Daily Mail, as she wrote in her column at the time. Mr Walden agreed to the amendment.



Crime pays

Sir: I am a retired coal miner who worked underground for 35 years. I have been waiting more than five years for British Coal to decide how much compensation to pay me for contracting chronic bronchitis caused by coal dust. So I was amazed to read about convicted criminals suing the Home Office for having to go cold turkey because they were not supplied with illegal drugs in prison. I am sure they will not have as long I have had to wait for compensation. I must have chosen the wrong path in life.



Name shame

Sir: While it is always welcome to have articles about Scotland and Scottish issues (I wish there were more), it is difficult to take Steve Richards seriously (Opinion, 21 November) when he cannot get the name of Scotland's First Minister correctly on the three occasions that he refers to him.



Golf star

Sir: I hear on the news that a cosmonaut in the latest Russian space mission will be hitting a golfball into the void. Will he/she be aiming for a black hole in one?



Toyboy chimps

Sir: You report "Male chimps opt for older females" (21 November). That should read "Female chimps opt for younger males". The normal rule in primate society is that the male proposes, the female disposes.