Ministers moved to head off further criticism of their controversial policy of ending care in the community this week by doubling the money on offer to create alternative services.
Officials were due to tell the mental health reference group, set up last month to develop a new policy, that 1bn would be on offer to develop assertive outreach schemes, 24-hour nursed beds and similar initiatives.
Earlier drafts of the policy had suggested that 500m would be made available - sparking an outcry not just from groups wanting to make community care work, but also those opposed to the policy (See News, page 3, 30 April).
Mental health groups, many of whom had criticised the draft Department of Health document - which declared 'community care has failed' - said the policy outlined this week contained 'no real surprises'.
Legislative changes, including a possible review of the 1983 Mental Health Act, could include giving health authorities wider powers to order the supervision of patients outside hospital and to recall those who refuse medication.
Ministers plan to put flesh on the bones of the policy later in the year, but had been under pressure to give some indication of their thinking - which they did at yesterday's meeting of the mental health reference group.
Chaired by Professor Graham Thornicroft of the Institute of Psychiatry, the group is charged with developing a national framework for mental health, and takes in a broader membership than the advisory body set up last year.
In addition to representatives of organisations such as the Mental Health Foundation, Sane and Mind, it includes academics, managers and some of the smaller voluntary organisations.
Cliff Prior, chief executive of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, said this week that 'hard cash' would help restore public confidence in mental health services and called for new legislation to empower service users and carers.
A spokesperson for the Mental Health Foundation added: 'This is a real opportunity for the government to breathe life into the mental health sector.'