Published: 16/09/2004, Volume II4, No. 5923 Page 20

Woody Caan's letter (Feedback, pages 20-21, 26 August) is timely. The Mental Health Bill proposes the abolition of the Mental Health Act Commission and the merger of its monitoring functions into the Healthcare Commission.

While the demise of the MHAC is not something we would have sought, by far the most important issue is to ensure robust processes and procedures for protecting the rights of detained patients.

Patients with mental disorder treated under compulsory powers are the only people detained against their will within the NHS. They are unique, often highly vulnerable and excluded.

The MHAC's position has been to argue for the strongest possible powers for whatever body succeeds the present commission.We have been working closely with the Healthcare Commission to ensure that they would be in a position to undertake the monitoring and inspection of mental health services - especially for detained patients - very effectively.

The draft bill 2002 did not place clear responsibility on the Healthcare Commission to undertake monitoring or to visit in the way that the MHAC does at present.

This MHAC has argued strenuously for an equivalent of the 1983 Act's section 120, which establishes that the Healthcare Commission's remit will include visiting and interviewing detained patients and reporting any concerns about the lawfulness of their detention and treatment.

We hope that after 20 years of the present MHAC, whoever takes over our functions under new legislation will, in like manner, pay close attention to the needs of detained patients and others subject to compulsion.

We will tell the parliamentary committee due to scrutinise the new bill that clear duties and accountability should be established to ensure patients' protections are not weakened.

Christopher Heginbotham Chief executive Mental Health Act Commission