The long-awaited Mental Health Bill is likely to be dropped to make space for other legislation
“The bill has the potential to strengthen the rights of young people sectioned under the Act and ensure that they have more say in their treatment and care. It would also vitally reform the care of black and minoritized people, who have faced racist treatment and abuse under the Act in this current form.” Tom Maddens, director of campaigns, YoungMinds
The government is preparing to abandon its plans to reform the Mental Health Act, the Times has reported.
The draft bill, which is designed to preserve the dignity of people detained under the Act, and to prevent inappropriate use of sectioning for people with autism and learning difficulties, is likely to be dropped. The government intends to use its limited time before the election on more electorally popular issues, the paper says.
More than 50,000 people a year are detained under the Act, and detention rates are four times higher for Black people. There is widespread agreement of the need for reform.
The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto said that it would “legislate so that patients suffering from mental health conditions, including anxiety or expression, have greater control over their treatment and receive the dignity and respect they deserve.”
The decision to reform the Act was prompted by a government-commissioned review, led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely and published in 2018, which found that too often the process of being detained under the Mental Health Act stripped patients of their dignity and self-respect.
Wessely recommended that patients should have a greater say in their treatment even if detained under the Act, and that the burden of proof should be changed to make it harder for patients to be left languishing on community treatment orders. He told the Times: “I would be very disappointed as we’re so close to the finishing line if it was delayed again. Severe mental illness is not a vote winner. It’s not a vote loser, [but] it’s not a vote winner either.”
He added: “My view is it is the kind of thing that governments should do. It is the right thing to do, and it needs to be done. Lots of people have put a lot of work into this. It’s not controversial. Nobody seems to disagree with what we’re trying to do. We’re nearly there. And I really wouldn’t like us to have lost the momentum we have.”
Other people in the sector expressed their disappointment. Mark Winstanley, chief executive of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said that a failure to include the proposed Mental Hill Bill in the King’s Speech would be “a huge betrayal, not only of the thousands of people detained under the Mental Health Act every year, but of all the people who have worked so hard to reform it so those in the greatest need receive the best possible support.”
Winstanley went on: “It is also completely bewildering when reform has cross-party support, and so should be able to pass through parliament with ease.”
Tom Maddens, director of campaigns at the charity YoungMinds, was also critical, telling the newspaper: “The bill has the potential to strengthen the rights of young people sectioned under the Act and ensure that they have more say in their treatment and care. It would also vitally reform the care of black and minoritized people, who have faced racist treatment and abuse under the Act in this current form.”
Ollie Steadman, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, told the Times: “The Mental Health Act is hugely outdated and no longer fit for purpose. People detained under this legislation can’t choose the treatment that works for them, and the Act doesn’t provide a way to appeal treatment decisions.”
A new Mental Hill Bill was promised in the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto. The proposed reforms to the current Act have cross-party support and have been welcomed across the sector. They would introduce a more patient-centred approach to caring for patients in mental health crisis, providing much needed dignity to those patients. We share the disappointment of charities across the sector that these long-awaited reforms might now be dropped, and urge the government to reconsider.