The Mental After Care Association understands the government's reluctance to accept the Fallon inquiry's recommendation to close Ashworth Hospital, given the potential problems.

But even its own figures suggest at least 30 per cent of patients in special hospitals do not need such secure environments.

It would be a far-sighted government that gave priority to this diverse group's needs and made supportive services available outside such institutions.

This would allow the debate to focus on those remaining patients who are of concern to the public, politicians and care professionals alike.

There's a chance it might even lead to a more humane way of helping them.

There can be no 'quick-fix' solution, but until we are clear about whose needs special hospitals are intended to meet, the current unsatisfactory situation will persist - to the detriment of all.

Gil Hitchon Chief executive MACA London WC1