Press Release

Minister publishes new Mental Health Bill

Brian Cowen, T.D., Minister for Health and Children, today (14 December 1999) announced the publication of the Mental Health Bill, 1999.

“This Bill will significantly improve safeguards for mentally disordered persons who are involuntarily admitted for psychiatric care and treatment”, the Minister stated. “It will bring Irish mental health law in this area into conformity with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”

The Bill provides for the establishment of an independent agency to be known as the Mental Health Commission. Its primary function will be to promote and foster high standards and good practices in the delivery of mental health services and to ensure that the interests of detained persons are protected. The Commission will include representatives of the medical, nursing and paramedical professions, voluntary bodies and the general public.

Each decision by a consultant psychiatrist to detain a patient for psychiatric care and treatment on an involuntary basis and each decision to extend the duration of such detention will have to be referred to the Commission. The Commission will arrange for an independent review of all such decisions by one or more Mental Health Tribunals which will operate under its aegis. The Mental Health Tribunal will arrange, on behalf of the detained person, for an independent assessment by a consultant psychiatrist. A tribunal will be empowered to order the release of a patient if it considers that he/she does not require to be detained involuntarily.

“All patients currently detained in psychiatric hospitals will have their cases reviewed by a Mental Health Tribunal within 6 months of the Bill coming into effect,” said the Minister.

The Commission will be the registration authority for all hospitals and in-patient facilities providing psychiatric care and treatment. The existing office of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals will be replaced with the office of the Inspector of Mental Health Services. The Inspector will be required to visit and inspect all approved centres at least once a year. The Minister will be empowered to make regulations specifying the standards to be maintained in all approved centres and these will be enforced by the Inspector. The Inspector’s annual report and review of the mental health services will be published along with the Commission’s annual report.

The Bill also includes new requirements for obtaining or dispensing with the consent of detained patients to certain categories of treatment (e.g. long-term medication, electro-convulsive therapy), bringing Irish law into line with international norms in this area.