Mental Health Bill – UK Government compromises over therapeutic value of treatment

A two-day debate on the Mental Health Bill in the House of Commons has led to the Government making an important compromise in the proposed legislation to ensure that any compulsory treatment must have a clear “therapeutic benefit” to the patient.

Welsh Labour MP Chris Bryant, who proposed the amendment, said: “Psychiatric units must not become prisons by another name – we cannot just detain people for the purpose of detaining them.”

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said that mental health organisations had urged her to accept the amendment, and added that it was a “good compromise.”

The wording of the amendment makes it clear that any mention of medical treatment in the new mental health legislation must refer “to treatment the purpose of which is to alleviate or prevent a worsening of the disorder, its symptoms or manifestations.”

The new amendment follows Ms Winterton’s announcement last week of three further changes to the Bill that would mean that children must not be treated on adult wards, that advocacy services must be available to all those detained under the Act, and that conditions could only be placed on a person who is on supervised community treatment (SCT) in order to ensure that they receive treatment to prevent the risk of harm to their health or safety, or to protect other people.

Another amendment was proposed during the two-day debate, when Shadow Health Minister Tim Loughton said the Conservatives wanted an “impaired decision making” test put into the bill, to ensure that patients who retained the capacity to decide their own treatment should have their wishes respected.

That was supported by Labour MP Lynne Jones and Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, who said it allowed for people who, while mentally ill, were rational in deciding they did not want medical treatment.

But Ms Winterton said it would leave potentially dangerous people to be dealt with by the criminal justice system and the amendment was defeated.

The Bill gained its third reading by 272 to 202 votes, a majority of 70.
It now returns to the House of Lords, where a string of defeats has already been inflicted on the government, to consider MPs’ amendments.