'LABOUR TALK FAILS MENTALLY ILL'

Daily Telegraph – 16 December 1997

Your report (December 13) which mentioned my Mental Health (Amendment) Bill is, sadly, inaccurate. The Bill was not given the Second Reading it should have received on Friday, but was instead "talked out" by a junior health minister, Paul Boateng, aided and abetted by a handful of cynical New Labour backbenchers.

Had the Bill not been blocked in this way, it would have amended the 1983 Act to lay a duty on health authorities, first, to provide separate ward areas and appropriate security devices on doors to prevent women in-patients being raped by predators in acute psychiatric units.

Second, it would require authorities to prepare a long-term strategy for the provision of separate and therapeutic environments appropriate to the very different needs of psychiatric in-patients, particularly those in a potentially suicidal state.

The Bill was designed to involve minimal cost, and to be capable of amendment if the Government felt that it could support some parts of it but not others.

As I came second in the Private Member's Bill ballot, there was no reason why my Bill would have run out of time. Instead of taking up my offer of the Bill as a vehicle for any other improvements for people in acute mental distress, the Government put up a group of ambitious and unscrupulous backbenchers to filibuster the Bill and to prevent it proceeding to its Committee Stage, where any alterations felt to be necessary could easily have been made.

As a result of this, in-patients on acute wards will remain liable to sexual and other forms of assault, and psychiatrists will continue to advise some desperately ill people not to take up available beds because of the unsuitable mixture of patients on acute wards.

Leading mental health charities, including SANE, MIND and the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, supported one or both of my Bill's proposals. New Labour has shown us all how little it cares for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
House of Commons
London SW1