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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Psychiatrists welcome Northern Ireland announcement of world-first single capacity and mental health legislation

Embargoed until 11 September 2009

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has welcomed Northern Ireland’s announcement that it will introduce single Mental Health and Capacity Legislation, saying that this sets a world lead in bringing equality for people with mental health problems.

The Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Michael McGimpsey, today announced plans for a single Mental Health and Capacity Bill. This will mean that people who are unable to make decisions for themselves will come under the same legislation, whether this is for physical reasons or because of mental health conditions.

Professor Dinesh Bhugra, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "This move to single legislation makes very good sense. We fundamentally consider that both mental health and capacity legislations are there to support others to intervene when mental disorder affects people’s capacity to make decisions about their lives and treatment."

Professor Bhugra added: "Scotland, England and Wales each have two pieces of legislation, which is often seen as one for ‘good’ people with incapacity who primarily require protection and another for ‘bad’ people who primarily need detention and treatment against their will. This effectively endorses the stigma that people with mental illness face every day, and which inhibits recovery and is a barrier to people living fully inclusive lives."

Dr Philip McGarry, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Northern Ireland Division, said that the College had worked with others in the mental health sector to lobby for this outcome.

He said: "We are pleased that the Health Minister has listened, and we are pleased that the principle of autonomy integral in the Bamford Review has been maintained, so that individuals who have the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves will be allowed to do so."

"The modernised legislation promises to be better for people with mental health problems, and better for society as a whole. Only a small proportion of people with mental health problems will ever need to be detained, usually because they want to harm themselves, and on some occasions because they are at risking of harming others. These people should have the same rights and protections anyone else to whom capacity legislation applies."

Dr McGarry continued: "Drafting a world-first piece of legislation will be challenging, but there will be considerable goodwill in the mental health and legal community in Northern Ireland, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists has pledged to work closely with the Department of Health to ensure that legislation will work in practice."

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Claire McLoughlin
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For more information, please contact Liz Main on 07711 558 296, email


Note to editors:

The Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability in Northern Ireland published ‘A Comprehensive Legal Framework for Mental Health and Learning Disability’ report in August 2007, recommending a single legislative framework for Mental Health and Capacity legislation. It said the legislation should be principles based and enshrine the autonomy of the individual to make decisions. The Northern Ireland Executive’s initial response was that it would first amend the Mental Health Order (1986) and then start the work to introduce the mental capacity legislation three years later. Following responses to the consultation on its response to Bamford, the Department of Health accepted that changes to legislation should be simultaneous, and issued a consultation document on legislative reform in January 2009, outlining a twin track approach. The Royal College of Psychiatrists and many others in the mental health field responded that Northern Ireland had a unique opportunity to introduce single Mental Health and Capacity legislation, and urged the Health Minister to set a world standard in doing so.


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