November 26, 2004

New Bill Raises Workload Fears

Mental Health Bill could lead to millions of referrals

MENTAL HEALTH professionals could face hugely expanded workloads because in future they will be required to treat large numbers of people with alcohol and drug dependencies.

Cliff Prior, chief executive of the mental illness charity Rethink, prediets that up to three million extra patients could be referred for mental health services if the Mental Health Bill becomes law. He believes that people with dependencies should receive help from mental health services, but only if they have mental health problems.

Mr Prior believes that people with drug or alcohol dependency who do not have mental illness would meet the requirements of a new definition of 'mental disorder' and therefore qualify for mental health treatment. This definition refers to the 'impairment of the function of the mind or brain caused by a disorder of the mind or brain'.

Current mental health legislation allows for the exclusion from services of people with alcohol and drug dependency who are not considered mentally ill, but there is no such exclusion in the new bill.

Mr Prior said at a conference on the bill last week: 'Psychiatric services already struggling to cope could not possibly take the burden. Is it right to draw in two or three million people with drug or alcohol problems?'

Mental health nurse Mike Lehane told Nursing Standard that many nurses are concerned about the bill. Nurses would have less time to spend on other patients if forced to focus on alcohol-dependent patients subject to compulsory treatment orders. 'The bill is trying to be all things to all people/ said Mr Lehane, who is based in Cardiff.

A Department of Health spokesperson said changes would help people with dependencies who have missed out on mental health care historically. 1No one will be subject to compulsory treatment unless they meet all the criteria.'

'Psychiatric services already struggling to cope could not possibly take the burden'

Copyright RCN Publishing Company Ltd. Nov 3-Nov 9, 2004