Five professional organisations leave Mental Health Alliance

Five major professional organisations have left the Mental Health Alliance, accusing it of failing to send out a “clear” message about the importance of non-medical approaches in mental health.

Psychologists, psychiatric nurses and occupational therapists have accused the alliance of failing to convey their views about aspects of the mental health bill in briefings to MPs and Lords.

The British Psychological Society, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Association of Occupational Therapists and Unison and Amicus (who represent mental health nurses) have suspended their membership of the alliance which for eight years has campaigned against the bill.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is now the only major mental health professional body represented by the alliance, backed by more than 70 other mental health, law and human rights organisations.

But the alliance’s chair Andy Bell emphasised that, despite the withdrawal of the five professional organisations, it will still “speak up” for service users.

“Our members are committed to achieving legislation that keeps the use of force in mental health care to a safe minimum and that give patients and carers more, not fewer, rights,” he said.

The five organisations are particularly frustrated that the House of Lords had voted against giving non-psychiatrists new powers to decide whether or not sectioned patients should have their detention renewed.

The organisations see it as a failure by the alliance to communicate to parliament the worth and status of professionals utilising non-medical and non-pharmacological approaches, such as psychological therapy, to treat the mentally ill.

The organisations say “unwarranted fears” had also been voiced in parliament that non-psychiatrists would be more likely to detain patients. The organisations also claim their members had been unjustifiably portrayed in parliamentary debates as “self-interested” and less responsible than medically-trained psychiatrists.

One key grievance is that House of Lords peers, many of whom the Royal College of Psychiatrists advised, voted that at least two “medical practitioners” i.e. psychiatrists, should be involved in renewing a detention.

But in the bill as it stands there is no legal requirement for a psychiatrist to be involved in ordering a renewal of detention. Responsibility would lie with a “clinical supervisor” who could be a psychologist, nurse, social worker or occupational therapist.

In an advisory letter last week to MPs, representatives of the five non-psychiatrist organisations – who say they represent 85 per cent of all mental health professionals – emphasised the value of non-pharmacological treatments in multi-disciplinary work.

“Occupational therapists and psychologists routinely lead clinical teams and supervise the clinical work of other professions. Psychological interventions are now considered the ‘treatment-of-choice’ for a wide variety of mental disorders, and are in huge demand,” read the letter.

“We have long argued that it would be in the interests of mental health service users …for other professionals who work more closely with service users on a day-to-day basis to have a more developed role.”

The mental health bill is due to go to a report stage in the House of Commons next month.

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