'Let me out of Broadmoor for Christmas'

By Jo Dillon,Sophie Goodchild
Sunday 01 December 2002 01:00

Janet Cresswell, the poet and playwright who has spent more than 25 years in Broadmoor, has written to The Independent on Sunday calling on the Government to allow her home for Christmas.

The plight of Ms Cresswell, now aged 71, was one of the catalysts for this newspaper's mental health campaign.

"I have suffered enough, I never wanted publicity or to become an angry old lady fighting for human rights, but if my stance can highlight the plight of those seeking treatment for mental illness – which is a shambles – then so be it," Ms Cresswell writes.

She adds: "While IRA prisoners are allowed Christmas home leave, this is not available to me in here."

The award-winning playwright is among an estimated 400 people languishing in Britain's high-security hospitals. Many of these men and women should have been released years ago but remain locked up because beds cannot be found for them outside these hospitals.

Campaigners are calling on the Government to provide better care for mentally ill people in the community, improve conditions in hospitals and introduce a workable strategy to improve care.

Government statistics released last week show a dramatic increase in the numbers of mentally ill people being forcibly sectioned. Figures from the Department of Health show that the number of men detained under the Mental Health Act has increased by 40 per cent, and the number of women by 19 per cent, over the past decade.

Now there are, 11,900 men and 11,400 women being held for compulsory treatment. And, of those people taken to hospital for treatment, 89 per cent are taken in by force.

Majorie Wallace, the chief executive of the pressure group SANE, said yesterday that the "dramatic increase in compulsion" could have been avoided if hospital conditions were "humane and tolerable". She said people were subjected to "lots of aggression and abuse", making it unlikely they would stay of their own accord.

Many simply did not get the help they needed. Women, in particular, found the conditions in hospitals "unsuitable", Ms Wallace said.

She added: "It is really sad because in the past people could go into hospital to get help. Now, they feel there is no one around to help them."

The shadow Health Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, said: "Now even the Department of Health itself is effectively admitting what the Conservative Party has said repeatedly, that increasing numbers of people who desperately need treatment for mental illness are instead being put in prison.

"These statistics re-confirm our view that sectioning people is being used as an easy option in the absence of proper mental health legislation. They should ring alarm bells about the danger of locking people up instead of giving them treatment at an early stage."

He said that the Conservatives' opposition to the draft Mental Health Bill had only been "compounded" by the new figures.

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