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Swine flu prompts changes to Mental Health Act

23 September 2009

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The government plans to rush through measures allowing people with suspected mental health issues to be quickly detained because of fears over staff shortages in any forthcoming swine flu outbreak, it has been revealed.

The temporary changes to the Mental Health Act, as laid out in an unusually short consultation lasting just one month, would mean it would only take one doctor, rather than two, to have a person sectioned and put on medication without their consent.

The measures could have a serious effect on the thousands of patients with psychiatric issues who currently live outside state care, meaning many could be detained against their will on the word of just one health professional.

With very little information on the proposed changes published, many mental health experts have warned the government that they risk side-lining an already vulnerable community and have called on it to spell-out the full raft of changes proposed in the consultation.

Department of Health

Is it right that swine flu should affect health regulations? Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

“How temporary are these changes? I have known many people with swine flu. It is apparently much milder than normal flu. I suspect this temporary law is being considerd in case of ‘staff shortages’, which won’t happen. As for sectioning someone ‘just-in-case’, I can’t see anyone would benefit from that, or would be able to sanction it. I feel we have the normal over-the-top doom and gloom predictions, re recession/bird fl/swine flu/global warming. I know these are or have happened, but never to the scale the daily papers predict. So, yes, maybe temporary new laws, but common sense hopefully prevails too. I obviously think whoever came up with this idea are only trying to justify their jobs. Common sense will prevail. Swine flu will be like bird flu. That was supposed to wipe us out!! So much scaremongering. As for people with mental-health problems  being sectioned because of swine flu – impossible without a  good reason and the agreement with relatives. Just another ruse” – Diane Bontoft, Nottingham

“Are you sure you’re asking the right question? It seems obvious that management of swine flu would affect health regulations as it is a major health issue at this time” – Roxanne, Florida

“No. What about all the departments of psychiatry who will have reduced staff as a consequence of the swine flu? Increasing the number of detainees, who under conventional sectioning rules would not be eligible, will put pressure on the wards who have reduced staff numbers (as a consequence of the flu) and compromise the care of all patients involved. Surely two medical opinons are required for a reason” – Jennifer, Hampshire

“No; here in BC, Canada, the Mental Health Act was changed a decade ago to allow a single physician to declare a person in need of involuntary restraint and forced medication. The documented cases of abuse of this power now abound, usually misapplied to activists, sceptics and harmless eccentrics” – Victor Joseph, Canada

“Dee Nicholson has it right. As soon as they can classify refusing the vaccination as purposefully harming yourself it will be administered to you while you wear the very latest fashion in very long sleeved jackets” – Colin Rose, South Australia

“NO” – Marjorie, North Wales

“Wow, so anyone who has ever seen a counsel, therapist, psychologist, or doctor for any depression stress, has a history of mental illness and now can be detained with just one doctor’s consult? Tell me if there isn’t any opportunity for abuse of powers here” – Beth, location withheld

“Why mental health care? Why is this area of healthcare targeted? There are a host of other areas if it’s a matter of cost and efficiency … I personally know of a couple of cases where people were held in a facility and made to stay on medications that were actually the cause of the problem … If this happens with the current system, what worse could happen with looser guidelines?” – Jill Bernard, Wisconsin

“Most definitely not! Why the panic if swine flu, so we are told, is not really serious?” – Josephine, Western Australia

“No No NO!!!! It took a long time to undate the act and even if this was a good thing (it is NOT in my opinion) one month is NOT long enough to allow people to comment. Where is the TIME TO CHANGE the stigma if this is allowed!!! What would be the next ‘thing’ to allow changes to be made??” – Pauline Berry, East Sussex

“No, as I have a poster against swine flu in my front window and have mental illness history, does that mean I will be sectioned again? And worse still forced to get vaccinated. Freedom it appears is the main casualty of what would appear to be a flu even milder than normal flu! I think they should give up there are so many people who know swine flu scaremongering is a hoax and so many are suspicious of the vaccine, we should hold a demo against it!” – Katie Nikiforou, Buckinghamshire

“No” – Antonio Zeprelo, London

“Absolutely not, especially if these authorities redefine ‘mental illness’ to include being opposed to the government’s official stories about the swine flu. When governments remove civil rights, and arbitrarily change laws so as to deny due process of law, we are automatically living under a dictatorship. Citizens of any nation which allow such nefarious backdoor assaults on their freedoms will have their indifference rewarded with tyranny” – Dee Nicholson, Canada

“People of influence in the community should be providing leadership, not asking ‘the general public’ to provide THEM with the leadership they are NOT showing, asking for expressions of opinion on matters that are, or should be, self-evident” – Wayne Hall, Aigina, Greece

“No. absolutely not. In the event of staff shortages, what we don’t need is less thorough assessment! Swine flu seems to be the ‘new terrorism’ allowing the state to impose ‘fear based’ measures that would otherwise seem unthinkable” – Christian Thompson, Yorkshire

“Tyranny, fascism and eugenicism in action” – Scott, Teesside