Published: 05/12/2002, Volume112 No. 5834 Page 22

The omission from the Queen's Speech of plans to introduce the government's draft Mental Health Bill is a small but important victory.

Health secretary Alan Milburn has nevertheless clearly signposted his intention to proceed with the bill and introduce preventative detention for a small group of 'dangerous' people who cannot currently be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

This is despite concerns that others could be swept up by the bill and some mental health service users might 'go underground'.

There are no plans for preventative detention in the government's new sex offenders' legislation. Nor, as far as we are aware, are there any such plans for people who abuse alcohol and drugs, who are considerably more likely to commit acts of violence than people with a mental illness.

If the intention is to protect the public, a legitimate government concern, then to target people with a mental disorder is clearly discriminatory.

What have, regrettably, been forgotten in this debate are the positive elements of the draft bill, such as a more effective tribunal system, the right to specialist advocacy services for those subject to compulsion and powers for service users to choose a 'nominated person' to speak for them.

We want to engage constructively with the government to create good, workable mental health legislation.

But its insistence that risk and dangerousness are paramount, rather than rights for patients to assessment and care, suggests a rocky path lies ahead.

Simon Lawton Smith Head of public affairs Mental After Care Association