Mental Health Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 15th January 2007.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Shadow Minister, Health 3:45 pm, 15th January 2007

The noble Baroness speaks with tremendous authority on this issue, and I can only agree with all that she said. Simply from a practical perspective, we need to focus on how valuable it is for an assessment to be carried out in all cases before there is any question of compulsory powers being exercised. Having listened to psychiatrists talking about this issue, I am convinced that this concept of a single gateway is right. It is sometimes very difficult for a doctor, when confronted by a patient in acute mental distress, to make an accurate diagnosis about that person's needs in a very limited time. Snap judgments can be wrong. That difficulty can occur even when he knows the patient already. To admit the patient for assessment buys him the necessary time and ensures that the essential preconditions for compulsory admission to hospital are present. Chief among those conditions is that the patient has a mental disorder as opposed to suffering from anything else, such as temporary intoxication or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, a brain tumour, and that compulsory treatment is necessary to avoid significant risk to the patient or to others.

The noble Baroness was right: we do need to remind ourselves that, for an individual even to put himself in the running for compulsory detention, something very major must have happened that brings him to a state of mental crisis. Even if the doctor has dealt with the patient before, he cannot necessarily prejudge how such a crisis should best be handled. Whatever is the matter with the patient now may be different from whatever was the matter before, and all this argues strongly for this amendment.

The noble Baroness was right again to remind us that the 2004 Bill provided for an automatic assessment period before a care plan is drawn up. I hope that the Minister will not tell us, as she did in response to the last amendment, that this amendment is strictly unnecessary because it accords with best practice. If I were to be cruel about the Minister's last reply, I would say that she was preaching to us an exercise in cost-cutting in the National Health Service. I hope I do not misjudge her—I am sure that she is not of that frame of mind—but that could be what lies behind the Government's answers.

I hope that the Government will look positively at trying to replicate in this Bill the idea from the 2004 Bill, because under that Bill the patient would either have been discharged or have had his case considered by a tribunal. The amendment in effect proposes a right for all patients to apply to a tribunal. That is in the spirit of what the Government accepted before as being appropriate, and I am sure that it is right.