Focus: Policy and Politics - Acceptable legislation 'still a way off'

Charities say the Government's concessions do not go far enough, writes Mathew Little.

Charities have said Government concessions on the draft Mental Health Bill do not go far enough.

Last week, ministers said they will consider improving patients' rights in the proposed legislation but are still determined to widen controversial powers to compulsorily detain people with mental health problems.

The Government was responding to recommendations made in a special Joint Parliamentary report on the Bill.

Paul Farmer, chairman of the Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of 50 voluntary organisations, said: "After seven years and thousands of hours of consultation on this crucial legislation, some of the basic changes are now being recognised. But we're still a long way from acceptable legislation."

In particular, the alliance lamented the Government's decision to reject a test of "therapeutic benefit" before subjecting people to compulsory treatment.

"The Government risks clogging up services with people who cannot be treated and should not be there," said Farmer. "We know that the system cannot cope with this."

Social care charity Turning Point said the Bill risked deterring black people from seeking treatment because of the fear they would be treated unfairly.

"Virtually everything in this Bill disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic communities," said Turning Point chief executive Lord Adebowale. "Research indicates that mental health patients from BME communities are far more likely to be detained than their white counterparts.

"Fear of services makes them unwilling to seek help early on, so their first experience of services is often a compulsory and negative one. I see little in the Government's response that addresses these issues."

The Government has conceded that there should be exclusions to the definition of "mental disorder", but it has not agreed to the committee's recommendations on making aftercare available free of charge for as long as needed, or giving carers the same powers as family members currently possess.

The chief executive of Mind, Richard Brook, said: "Sadly, the Government has not listened fully to the Scrutiny Committee's report on top of the advice from the other stakeholders.

"There are some benefits that we welcome, and we must now continue to work with and challenge the Government to prevent a stigmatising Bill."

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