Mental health groups reacted with dismay this week to the government's asyet still-secret plans for a shift in policy on community care backed by £50m a year investment in NHS mental health services.

One privately described the content of the draft policy document - reported in last week's Journal - as 'astonishing from a Labour government'. And there were calls for the paper to be published swiftly to end uncertainty.

Groups from across the policy spectrum, including SANE, the Mental Health Foundation and Mind, called for an end to Department of Health secrecy on the issue. Officials have consistently denied that there is a new policy.

But Mind director Judi Clements said: 'When we asked, we were assured that government policy was unchanged.

Strictly speaking that was true at the time, but there is an awful lot of thinking going on which was not being shared.'

SANE chief executive Marjorie Wallace accused the government of backing down on pre-election promises to fund 5,000 new places in 24-hour staffed housing. The draft document suggests spending£25m on 1,000 places.

'That is a dramatic scaling back, ' she said. 'A thousand places is absolutely nothing. The original idea was that it might provide some people with homes for life, but that is clearly not going to happen.'

And she added: 'This is just going to deal with the tip of the iceberg. It is about dealing with the small minority who might pose a threat to themselves or others by tackling acute services.

'It does nothing for the hundreds of thousands of families who need help.

Assertive outreach, for example, is very expensive -£15m will go nowhere, and the£1m for family therapy is barely enough to fund our helpline.'

Ms Clements also criticised the proposed investment. '£50m a year is not a great deal.£500m might make an impact, but trickled down year by year, it is not going to make a huge difference, ' she warned.'

She called for the document to be published as soon as possible. There had been 'rumour and speculation' about its content for months, and for the DoH to continue denying its existence was 'not helpful'.

'There has been a lot of rumour that it might propose compulsory treatment in the community, and that has raised a lot of concern, ' said Ms Clement. Such a policy was opposed both by users and by community psychiatric nurses.

'It is a relief that the draft does not say that, but you would not be alone in jumping to the conclusion that the proposed review of the Mental Health Act 1983 was really about that.'

And Mental Health Foundation chief executive June McKerrow said she was concerned by the government's authoritarian tone on mental health.

Health minister Paul Boateng, she said, had backed 'NIMBY-type protests in his own constituency' and taken 'an incredibly reactionary view on winter shelters'.

The draft policy dealt with 'headline issues', not the real problems.