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DoH pledges £130m to create 'places of safety'

Government promises to update psychiatric units as it comes under pressure over Mental Health Bill

The Department of Health (DoH) has announced a £130m upgrade of mental health premises, receiving a guarded welcome by concerned charities.

The new money, announced by health minister Rosie Winterton, will be used to update the mental health estate in an attempt to ensure that each mental health trust has access to an 'appropriate place of safety' for those brought in by police for mental assessment.

Mental health campaigners and human rights groups have strongly criticized the government for holding such people in police cells which they claim are frightening and inappropriate.

The money will also be spent on updating in-patient wards and psychiatric units, which the government admits are currently unsatisfactory.

Ms Winterton said: ìWe know that the mental health estate needs refurbishment. Although recent investment has delivered improvements across the country, much of the estate dates from before 1948 and is older than the rest of the NHS estate.î

A psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) audit carried out in Autumn 2004, indicated that over 33 per cent of the PICUs and low secure units failed on several critical, difficult or serious estate issues. With such a large number of improvements being needed, critics have argued that £130m is not enough to achieve the long awaited overhaul.

More importantly, the act which ìdemonstrates the government's commitment to improving and reforming mental health servicesî clearly states that the money will not be available until some time in 2006, and will only be utilised if the reforms are deemed affordable.

Though the potential extra funding has been welcomed, the wider issue of the mental heath bill itself remains key for charities and health workers. The government has rejected a parliamentary committee's main recommendation that people should not undergo forced treatment if no therapeutic benefit could be derived from it.

The government plans to introduce rules whereby those with personality disorders considered untreatable by doctors would no longer be exempt from forced measures. The committee's chairman, Lord Carlile, was critical, telling the Guardian: ìIt would be very unwise for the government to produce anything vastly different from what we proposed.î

The Royal College of Psychiatrists was also disappointed with the Government's failure to adopt committee recommendations. Dr Tony Zigmond, vice-president, told the Daily Telegraph: ìIt is sad that Government still fails to understand that it is unethical to force treatment on people who are well enough to make their treatment decisions.î

Some critics are increasingly lumping `enforced treatment' together with civil rights issues, but others feel something needs to be done. It is believed that between 50 and 75 killings a year are carried out by people with a mental health history. Over 1,000 others commit suicide.

30th September 2008

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