Delhi Takes A Step Forward In Mental Health Care With State Authority Approval
Long Delay Sparks Concerns as Delhi Finally Nears Establishment of Vital Mental Health Authority
Photo Credit : Photo by Vie Studio,
Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG) VK Saxena has given the green light for the establishment of the State Mental Health Authority (SMHA) in the national capital, highlighting a significant five-year delay on the part of the Delhi government in forming the panel. This move complies with the Central Mental Health Care Act of 2017, which is aimed at improving the welfare of individuals suffering from mental illnesses. According to the Act, the authority must consist of not only government officials but also independent subject matter experts, patient advocates, caregivers, and representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The delay in constituting the SMHA has drawn criticism from the Lieutenant Governor. Under the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, the LG now has the authority to recommend members at his discretion. This discretion has become a point of contention, as it has led to a delay in nominating experts to the Authority, according to Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj.
The Central Mental Health Care Act of 2017 mandates the establishment of the State Mental Health Authority within nine months of the Act's enactment. The SMHA should include experts such as psychiatrists, mental health professionals, social workers, clinical psychologists, and mental health nurses, as well as patient, caregiver, and NGO representatives. This diverse representation is intended to ensure the dynamic functioning of the authority, rather than it becoming merely bureaucratic.
The Lieutenant Governor has criticized the Delhi Health Department for its "cavalier approach" to setting up this crucial statutory authority. The delay persisted even after the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's request to expedite the process, causing further concern.
The proposal for SMHA received approval from Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj before being submitted for the LG's endorsement. However, the LG expressed disappointment over the sluggish progress, urging the chief minister to address such issues promptly in the future.
In his approval, the LG emphasized that the Delhi Health Department should seek the President of India's approval through the Ministry of Home Affairs, following the provisions of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2023.
The SMHA's role is pivotal, as it will oversee the registration, supervision, and enhancement of quality care and services in mental health establishments within Delhi. Additionally, the authority will be responsible for registering clinical psychologists, mental health nurses, and psychiatric social workers as mental health professionals in the state.
In response to the LG's concerns, Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj criticized the abrupt halt of computerized OPD counters in government hospitals and the discontinuation of free laboratory services for poor patients by certain officials. He also raised questions about the delay in notifying nominated members for the Pharmacy Council in May 2023, suggesting that the LG's office had returned the file, stating that only elected members should be notified, not experts.
The establishment of the State Mental Health Authority is a significant step towards improving mental healthcare in Delhi, and it is hoped that the necessary steps will now be taken promptly to ensure its effective functioning.
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