Our proposals, which are set out in the Green Paper, are subject to consultation until 31 March. We will report on the outcome later this year.
I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State earlier reinforce the point that the NHS exists to serve patients. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the main purpose of the review of the Mental Health Act is seen to be to give patients the right to first-class care and treatment, rather than to reinforce the negative stereotypes of mentally ill people as being a danger to the public?
I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend that it is precisely the purpose of our proposals to improve mental health services. Those proposals do not consist only of the Green Paper; I am sure that she will be aware of the national service framework that we published in September and the additional £700 million that we are making available to modernise mental health services over the next three years. The entire thrust of our proposals is to ensure that people with mental health problems have access to a first-class national health service, and I am sure that she will be supporting them.
Can the Minister assure the House that those who are detained compulsorily under the Mental Health Act will always have a voice? There is a concern that people get lost and forgotten. Will the Minister give consideration in the consultation paper to ensuring that those people have an advocate so that they are not simply lost in the system?
Yes, I can assure the hon. Gentleman about those points. I hope that if he has had a chance to study the Green Paper, he will agree that in addition to improving the protection of staff, patients and the public, we have struck a better balance between resolving those issues and ensuring that patients who may in future be subject to compulsory treatment have access to a better process of decision making about their treatment. That has certainly been our intention in proposing detailed reforms in the Green Paper, and it makes a significant change in the way we deal with such issues in legislation. I hope that he will, in his own way, be able to support them.
Last year, the Secretary of State announced that there would be 231 new secure places in mental hospitals, 31 of which would be in the south-east. Where have the Government got to with those plans? Is the Minister aware of the case of my constituent, a patient who was attacked in a unit in St. James's hospital when a cup of boiling water was thrown over him? That resulted in his being taken to the special burns unit and the offending patient being held in a ward that should take five patients; so four patients had to be moved to accommodate one patient with seriously disturbed behaviour.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the 221 beds to which he is referring have already been provided in the national health service. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in November that we were increasing the total number of additional secure beds that we wanted to provide in the NHS from 300—a target that we set in the national service framework—to 500, and that we were bringing forward the meeting of that target by a year, so those additional 500 beds will be available in the NHS by April 2001.
I welcome reform of the Mental Health Act 1983, but will my hon. Friend pay attention to the anxiety expressed by members of the general public in the past few weeks about the protection of the mental health of children, especially regarding the over-use of mood-modifying drugs such as Ritalin?
I am well aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the use of Ritalin. That is why its use has been referred to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. I hope that the institute will be able to provide authoritative guidance on the use of Ritalin in the future.
I should reassure my hon. Friend that we want the maximum safeguards in any future legislation to be available to children. There are no specific safeguards available to children under the current Mental Health Act, and the purpose of our consultation exercise is to initiate a wide debate about the future of that legislation. If any serious proposals are made about children in relation to any future legislation, we will of course examine them carefully.