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BMA: Mental Health Act poses serious ethical problems

The BMA has warned that proposed changes to the Mental Health Act will put patients at risk of being detained in psychiatric facilities even for untreatable mental illnesses, and use doctors as ‘pawns to lock away problem individuals'.

In its response to the Government's consultation on the revised draft of the 1983 Mental Health Act, the BMA voiced its concerns that the revisions could pose ‘serious ethical problems' for GPs and other doctors.

The BMA argues that patients may be detained in psychiatric facilities against their will, even in situations where there is no prospect of doctors being able to provide a health benefit – for example if a patient is suffering from an untreatable personality disorder.

Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA's medical ethics committee, said: ‘The only justification for detaining or sectioning someone is when there is a reasonable belief that there is likely to be an overall health benefit to the patient. It cannot be ethical to use mental health legislation to detain someone simply to keep them away from the public.'

‘The ‘appropriate medical treatment test' has been so weakened in this draft code that it has become meaningless and could end up being used as a tool to detain people with untreatable behavioural problems.'

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