Church agency calls for more consultation on mental health bill

 Caritas-social action this week called on government to ensure wide consultation following the decision to abandon its controversial Mental Health Bill. The government is now planning to amend existing legislation, but the bishops' agency is concerned that unworkable proposals will be pushed through at the expense of vulnerable people with mental health problems. This issue will be addressed at Caritas' annual social justice conference in Cambridge next week. The conference, entitled: 'disappointing justice' on 4 and 5 April, in Cambridge, will see bishops, policy makers and social work professionals meet to consider how far social justice is a reality in England and Wales in 2006. Speakers include Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Frank Field MP and Bishop William Kenney. Speaking in the wake of the Government's decision to abandon much of its controversial draft Mental Health Bill announced last week, Sarah Lindsell, Director of Caritas said: "Caritas members, and the thousands of people they represent and support, will be heartened by the Government's decision to abandon many of its previous draconian plans for a Mental Health Bill. But they will be anxious about what will come in its place. We are now in uncharted waters. "The Government's plans to bolt-on amendments to an outdated 1983 Mental Health Act will need careful consideration and full consultation with the real experts - professionals, service users and carers. It is a matter of social justice for the Catholic community to take a strong stand and campaign for an amended 1983 Act that enshrines the dignity of people with mental health problems and treats them with respect and compassion." Philomena Cullen, Policy Co-ordinator at Caritas said it was important that government plans to amend the 1983 Act provided people with the proper care and treatment to which they had a right. However, she was concerned that the government was in danger of ignoring well-documented concerns which have been clearly expressed at the consultation phase of the planned Bill. "The Government still wants to tag onto the old Act proposals that we know are stigmatising and unworkable," she said. "For example, it is extremely worrying that the Government persists in its plan to abolish the treatability test. This risks increasing compulsory powers unnecessarily for people who will have no therapeutic benefit from being deprived of their liberty. Any amendment to existing legislation must include a right to advocacy, treatment and contain clear principles to guide its use. We know that for too long mental health services have been the poor cousin in NHS provision. We therefore still have a long way to go before we have mental health legislation and services that are fit for the 21st century." Caritas-social action is a partner in the Mental Health Alliance, which is a coalition of 77 organisations, working together for a better Mental Health Act.

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