Mental patients may access courts

Updated: 2012-08-28 07:45

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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People who believe they are being forced to receive mental health treatment when they do not need it will be able to take their cases to court, under the proposals in a new draft law.

Institutionalized mental patients and their relatives could be entitled to file lawsuits against administrative agencies, hospitals, other institutes and individuals, if they believe their rights are being infringed, according to the second reading of the draft law on mental health put to lawmakers at the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Monday.

The second reading of the law differs from the first one, put to lawmakers in October, in which mental patients would only be allowed to apply to receive two new medical appraisals if they disagree with their treatment.

Mental patients may access courts

The proposed change was made to meet calls for judicial involvement in disputes regarding alleged forced mental health treatment.

There are concerns forcibly sending people to medical institutions in the name of mental problems could lead to abuses of power.

The change targets patients forced to receive residential treatment because they are considered to "threaten the safety of others or have impeded the safety of others".

Along with allowing a judicial review, the draft law also proposes streamlining the medical appraisal procedure. The first draft version of the law in October allowed patients to apply for two medical appraisals but not take their matters to court if they disagree with residential treatment. Monday's draft, however, only allows them to receive one new medical appraisal before they must turn to the courts for help.

Hong Hu, deputy director of the NPC Law Committee, explained at a bimonthly session on Monday, that the proposed change is to make the system more cost-effective, because it takes 60 days to complete two medical appraisals, which is too long.

Wang Yue, a health law professor at Peking University welcomed the proposals, noting that forced residential treatment can illegally deprive a person of freedom and there should be a means for patients to appeal to prevent abuses of power.

The draft has also asked governments to invest more financial and human resources to promote the mental health industry.

Tang Hongyu, vice-president of Peking University No 6 Hospital, a well-known mental hospital, said mental health facilities and psychiatrists are under-resourced, and many patients cannot receive treatment due to a lack of access to clinics.

A patient surnamed Zhou, who is receiving treatment at Tang's hospital, said he has to travel by bus and train from his hometown in Central China's Henan province to Beijing, because good mental health hospitals in Henan are rare.

Some provinces do not have specialized mental health hospitals and the income of mental health doctors are often lower than doctors providing other kinds of medical services, according to materials provided by the top legislature.