Swine flu affects mental health act

As well as hitting schools, families and the workplace, now the Department of Health is putting together plans to make changes to the Mental Health Act 1983, should there be staff shortages during the pandemic flu crisis.

According to mental health charity Mind, 47,600 detentions in the UK were made under the Mental Health Act in 2007/08.

The Act enables people with mental health problems to be detained in hospital for care and treatment but has strict processes that must be followed.

The process currently requires the presence of two doctors, one of whom must be trained in psychiatry, but the Department of Health is considering cutting the number of doctors needed to detain a person to just one.

Other measures being proposed include bringing back retired social workers to cope with the shortages.

National Director of Mental Health Services, Louis Appleby said: “There are already strong contingency plans in place for pandemic flu in mental health services, as there are for the rest of the NHS.

“It is important that we find out whether temporary changes in the Mental Health Act would help professionals and protect patients. We will also consider what in what kind of exceptional circumstances we might need to use them. It would only be in exceptional circumstances and strong safeguards would remain in place.