Psychiatric researchers give Bottomley a free consultation

January 6, 1995

Scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry, rated last year as producer of the world's highest impact health care research, took advantage of the captive audience of Virginia Bottomley last week to tell her what they thought of some of her policies.

The Secretary of State for Health came to hear about research at the Institute, with science minister David Hunt in tow. The visit publicised her moves to protect research in the NHS.

But Mrs Bottomley found she had offered to sit for two hours in front of researchers specialising in reducing the smacking of children; the effect of care in the community policies on the mentally ill; and how to do research when you do not have enough money to buy a building in which to conduct it.

Stephen Scott, senior lecturer at the institute in south London, told the ministers of evidence that violent behaviour in children may be the result of bad parenting rather than innate aggression.

Working with researchers from the neighbouring Maudsley Hospital, he has shown that training parents in interacting with their children helps them to find new ways of dealing with bad behaviour.

In a pilot study, the number of smacks given dropped from 13 per week to one after a three-month training course. The study is promising because few attempts at dealing with violent children have been shown to be effective.

Martin Knapp, professor of health economics, told the ministers of his work on the economics of the Government's controversial Care in the Community Act, passed in 1990.

He said that studies showed that in the long term, the costs of moving patients out of hospitals and into the community begins to exceed the costs of hospital care.

"Community care has not been shown to be cheaper," he said. "But you can provide it at a cost that can eventually be funded from the savings from hospital closures -- provided this money can be protected."

More Government funding for mental care and more regard to the long-term implications of policies were needed, he said.

Mrs Bottomley also heard about breakthroughs in the study of schizophrenia, from state-of-the-art brain imaging machines to psychological approaches.

Senior lecturer Liz Kuipers reported on the success of unfashionable psychological techniques in helping the psychotic. "A wide variety of people hold beliefs without evidence," she said. "Even some political beliefs might be based on an ideological basis rather than empiricism." By gently challenging such beliefs, her pilot study has shown some success.

The scientists finished by telling the ministers of problems with its prestigious new centre for integrating genetic and environmental approaches to psychiatry, funded by the Medical Research Council.

David Goldberg, director of research and development, said: "We would have a breakthrough in some of these fields if we had somewhere to put these scientists." He is looking for Pounds 4-6 million for a building.

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