Free article: Reform of the Mental Health Act

Published: Monday, 18 February 2019

Martin Hodgson looks at plans to reform the Mental Health Act.

Summary

  • An Independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983 was set up in October 2017 to address concerns regarding the Act.
  • The final report from the independent review panel has set out a number of recommendations for the Government to put forward in a new Bill.
  • The current Act does not allow the individual to decide which relative will be contacted on their behalf, but the review recommends that people will be allowed to nominate a person of their choice..
  • The review also recommends that people will in future be able to express their preferences for care and treatment and have these listed in statutory ‘advance choice’ documents.

The Government has announced that it will be introducing a new Mental Health Bill to modernise mental healthcare.

The announcement follows the publication of the final report from the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983.

The review was set up in October 2017. Its purpose was to understand the reasons for:

  • rising rates of detention under the Act
  • the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained under the Act
  • processes that are out of step with a modern mental health care system.
  • the review team was asked to consider how to improve practice within existing legislation if possible.

The final report sets out recommendations covering four principles that the review team believe should underpin a reformed Act:

  • choice and autonomy – ensuring service users’ views and choices are respected
  • least restriction – ensuring the Act’s powers are used in the least restrictive way
  • therapeutic benefit – ensuring patients are supported to get better, so they can be discharged from the Act
  • people as individuals – ensuring patients are viewed and treated as rounded individuals.

Key recommendations accepted by the government and to be included in the new Bill relate to patient choice.

Currently, those detained under the Act have no say on which relative is contacted to be involved in decisions about their care. This can lead to distant or unknown relatives being called upon to make important decisions about people’s care when they are at their most vulnerable. Instead, the review recommends that people will be allowed to nominate a person of their choice.

In addition, people will also in future be able to express their preferences for care and treatment and have these listed in statutory ‘advance choice’ documents.

Announcing the plans, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:

‘With one in four people being affected by mental ill health at some point in their lives, it is more important than ever that we put mental and physical health on an equal footing.

‘I am determined to do everything I can to protect people’s mental health and get them the help they need. The proposed new Mental Health Bill will give patients more control over their treatment and make sure that our mental health laws are fit for the modern age.’

Modernising the Mental Health Act: Increasing choice, reducing compulsion - Final report of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983, was published in December 2018. It is available for download from the GOV.UK website at https://bit.ly/2BSjLDK.

About the author

Martin Hodgson MSc, PGCEA is a community psychiatric nurse by background, and has had a long career working as a senior manager in various health agencies, including mental health, primary and community care.

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