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GPs attack Government plans for community treatment orders over concerns of ethnic minority profiling

Mental Health Bill 'discriminates'

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government is coming under intense pressure to revise its Mental Health Bill, after warnings that draft plans for community treatment orders are 'discriminatory' against ethnic minorities.

GPs and politicians warned the draft bill was over-

simplified and could lead to a disproportionate number of black patients being placed

under compulsory treatment.

The final bill is set to be unveiled in the Queen's speech on 23 November. But an RCGP consultation response, obtained by Pulse, said changes to the draft were essential.

Under amendments in the draft, four existing categories of mental disorder would be

replaced by a new simplified definition, giving GPs less flexibility in deciding who should be compulsorily treated (see right).

The RCGP said the introduction of supervised community treatment was 'highly likely to have an adverse effect on race equality', and expressed concern that the simplified bill 'could cause discrimination and damage good race relations'.

The Liberal Democrats warned an expert committee had only recommended using the orders 'in very limited

circumstances' and with strict safeguards.

Dr Geoff Wong, a GP in north west London who contributed to the RCGP document, said: 'We don't want to simplify so much that it becomes too broad and we stigmatise groups. It could be seen to be profiling


Dr Wong added: 'People are under supervision orders in the community and nobody understands why. The fact is that the illness is more common in

certain ethnic groups such as black people, but you have to

be very careful about the

implementation of some police state-type power.'

Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones, a GP in Stockport, said protecting society from people who could pose a threat had to be reconciled with the need to safeguard civil liberties.

She added: 'It's very important GPs are not left in a vulnerable position and left to take the blame for deficiencies in mental health care services.'

Baroness Liz Barker of

the Liberal Democrats said: 'We listened to practitioners with experience of working with compulsory community treatments, who said that they would only ever work for a small number of patients.

'If the legislation becomes law, they need to be sufficiently tightly defined.'

Key amendments in draft bill

Amendment one

• New simplified definition

of mental disorder, which although easier for GPs to understand, could be too broad and encourage profiling of patients from specific racial backgrounds

Amendment three

• Supervised community treatment to be introduced for patients after a period of detention in hospital. GPs would take more responsibility for monitoring patient care – with provisions to ensure patients continue on treatment

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