CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

'MENTAL HEALTH (AMENDMENT) BILL'

By Julian Lewis

The House Magazine – 23 June 1997

This Private Member's Bill has been prompted by my concern, shared by many colleagues and agencies, about the inadequate provision of mental health care and services to a growing number of mentally ill people in our community.

An unintended consequence of the closures of psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric beds is that certain groups of people are not able to find sanctuary and skilled care when they need it. Charities like SANE report that people with mental illness are effectively being denied care and treatment. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to ensure that psychiatric care and sanctuary – in the true sense of the word – is available to individuals, families or health professionals at the point at which immediate skilled care is necessary.

Since the implementation of the policy of Community Care, 47 former psychiat­ric hospitals have been closed and a fur­ther 41 are due for closure within the next few years. In the past 10 years, 30,000 psy­chiatric beds have been lost – with the re­sult that, in London and other major cities like Manchester and Birmingham, there are only 10 beds for every 15 patients.

Our psychiatric beds are gridlocked throughout the Health Service, placing an intolerable burden on the mentally ill, their families, carers and the public.

The purpose of this Bill is, therefore, to ensure provision of, and access to skilled care and sanctuary – including in-patient care – for:

  • people whose experience of traumatic life-events has brought them to the brink of what is commonly known as a "breakdown";
  • people whose illness may lead to frequent or occasional relapse;
  • people with long-term serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia;
  • people whose condition falls short of the criteria for admission under compulsory measures (Sections 2, 3 etc) but who are in urgent need of readily accessible sanctuary care.

This Bill will seek to ensure that:

  • sufficient beds are available for those with serious mental health problems who need 24-hour psy­chiatric nursing care;
  • bed provision meets the full range of need, including those patients who re­lapse while in the community and need readmission;
  • no further beds are closed without be­ing replaced by alternative hospital or equivalent clinical provision;
  • such bed provision recognises the need for separate specialist care facilities to meet the different needs of patients, clinically, environmentally and therapeutically.

We need a more effective way of increas­ing patients' right of access to hospital beds by establishing an entitlement to a bed above and beyond what is covered by cur­rent legislation. I hope that this Bill will have all-Party support in recognition of all our concerns regarding the plight of se­verely mentally distressed people and their families. I firmly believe that this measure will bring about improved quality of life and care for those affected.