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Survey reveals GP fears over mental health plans

By Lilian Anekwe

GPs feel massively under-equipped to take on new Government mental health legislation, a Pulse investigation this week reveals.

A survey of more than 400 GPs – conducted for Pulse by doctors' mobile communications company Pearl Medical – reveals just 9% think the Mental Health Bill will improve the care of mentally ill patients and 11% believe it will help to protect the public.

Meanwhile 65 % of GPs feel incapable of assessing patients for eligibility for the controversial supervised community treatment orders contained in the bill.

The findings come as the BMA this week claimed the mental health legislation would make doctors mere ‘pawns' in locking away problem individuals.

The Government wants to drop a requirement in the Mental Health Act Code of Practice for England that patients can only be detained in psychiatric facilities if there is a chance treatment can provide ‘reasonable benefit'.

Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA's Medical Ethics Committee, said it was not ethical to use mental health legislation to detain someone simply to keep them away from the public.

‘Other legislation needs to be used for these purposes, for example, if there are fears that a patient may harm others because of their personality disorder then criminal justice law needs to be invoked not mental health legislation,' he said.

Community treatment orders were criticised in a report commissioned by the Department of Health report last year as having ‘very little' supportive evidence.

Our survey shows nearly 40% of GPs are unhappy at having to give patients treatment compulsorily under the terms of the bill, with only 16% supportive of the proposal.

Last month Pulse revealed how GPs were already been left to treat a steady stream of more complex mental health cases.

This week Brian Rogers, professional officer at the Mental Health Nurses Association, confirmed patients with less severe mental illness had become a victim of the Government funding cuts.

‘The agenda has moved away from major investment in primary care mental health. Because the attention has been moved elsewhere others have missed out,' he said.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "GPs will not be required to decide whether their patients are eligible for supervised community treatment . That will be for specialist mental health professionals. Patients on SCT will be entitled to GP services in the same way as any other patients, and GPs' contractual obligations will be the same."

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