Draft Mental Health Bill “unethical” says British Medical Association

The British Medical Association (BMA) has expressed extreme concerns to the Scrutiny Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill. The Association claims that as the Bill stands it is unethical, unworkable and in conflict with the Human Rights Act.

Chairman of the BMA Ethics Committee, Dr Michael Wilks, said: “We believe that it is not possible to tinker with these proposals to improve them. The Government really does need to start again by talking to health professionals and other interested groups about what kind of legislation is needed to help people suffering from mental illness as well as protecting the community at large.”

The BMA have acknowledged several positive elements of the Draft Bill, commending the fact that:
• written care plans are at the centre of the Bill’s provisions
• formal reviews are required at an early stage of compulsion
• the Bill provides for speedy access to Tribunals
• the Bill provides for statutory access to advocacy
• the Bill contains enhanced requirements to consult with patients
• there are increased safeguards for children whose parents consent to treatment.

However, the overall message from the BMA team was “to tear the proposals up and start again”.

The main criticisms of the draft were:
• the Bill is extremely complex and difficult to understand
• it is extremely difficult to comment on a Bill that is so dependent on Codes of Practice that are not currently available
• the Bill’s underlying ethos is to manage risk – for example doctors may be compelled to detain individuals who might be dangerous but for whom detention provides no health benefit
• the term ‘treatment’ has very wide meaning in the Bill and would permit the detention of individuals with learning difficulties or personality disorders
• the Bill dispenses with the principle of least restrictive treatment and the BMA believes this is unethical
• there are concerns that the Bill is not compatible with Human Rights legislation.

The BMA also voiced its concerns about the implementation costs of the Bill, noting the Royal College of Psychiatrists estimate that 12 per cent of consultant psychiatry posts in England and Wales are currently vacant. The BMA stated that it would like to see more information about how the Government plans to resource the new proposals.

To read the BMA’s written evidence submission, follow this link.

For more information on the draft Mental Health Bill, go to the
draft Mental Health Bill page.