Church of England demands changes to 'regressive' mental health reforms

The Church of England has condemned the Government's Mental Health Bill which will lead to mentally ill people who have not committed a crime being locked up against their will.

Over 270 senior church leaders have given unanimous backing to a motion which brands the Bill's central provisions "unworkable and regressive" and "preoccupied with issues of public safety".

Last week, members of the General Synod, the Church of England's decision-making body, outlined their concerns over the proposed mental health reforms at their annual meeting in London.

They called on the Government to provide alternatives to prison for mentally ill offenders and legal protection for vulnerable patients incapable of choosing their own treatment.

This is the first time in eight years that the issue of mental health has been debated at the Synod. So concerned are its members that they now plan to lobby senior ministers at the Department of Health and the Home Office to amend the Bill.

The Ven Arthur Hawes, the Archdeacon of Lincoln, who opened the debate, said the Bill failed to recognise the link between social deprivation and mental illness.

"People with dangerous and severe personality disorders run the risk of being detained on the basis of perceived risk," said the archdeacon, a former Mental Health Act commissioner. "Not only will public safety overrule human rights, but people with learning disabilities will be liable to detention simply because they have learning disabilities."

He said the area of greatest concern was that prisons were not suitable places to provide care for mentally disordered offenders.

The Mental Health Alliance which is opposed to key aspects to the Bill said that it would continue to lobby the Government to amend its mental health proposals.

"We welcome the backing of the Church of England," said Paul Farmer the chairman of the Mental Health Alliance.

"We want a Bill but one that reflects the needs of the 21st century. The Government should realise that there is a lot of good will and desire to work with ministers on getting this right."

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