Reforms to the Mental Health Act announced

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A “landmark” reform to mental health laws was announced last week, with aims to tackle discrimination and give more autonomy to individuals care and treatment.

Credit: Gary Brigden via CommunityCare

Reforms will give more control to the individual over their care and treatment over being detained. Currently under the act people with mental health issues can be detained if they are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

Decisive action on disproportionate impact

The balance of power aims to tackle disparities for those who access mental health services, particularly people of colour.

The use of the act saw a 40% increase between 2005/6 to 2015/16 and current NHS England data shows there were 50,893 new detentions under the act, in 2019/20.

5,336 people were Black or Black British.

Decisive action will be taken to address the disproportionate impact of the act on Black and communities of colour. Black people are over four times more likely to be detained under the act and ten times more likely to be subjected to a community treatment order.

The government are aiming to appoint culturally appropriate representatives, so people of colour are better supported to voice their individual needs.

Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at Mind, welcomed the announcement.

“It is important those who have been detained under the Mental Health Act, as well as their loved ones, feed into the consultation, helping shape the reforms. Given black people are 4 times more likely to be sectioned than white people, it’s crucial the government hears from people from different black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. We want to see steps taken to identify, address and tackle underlying and systemic racism that results in disproportionate detentions and use of force.”

Modernise mental health laws

The White Paper intends to adopt much of the 2018 Wessley recommendations of the act which includes centering the individual’s views of their care and tackle disparities.

The 40-year-old act needed to be brought “into the 21st century” said the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“These reforms will rightly see people not just as patients, but as individuals, with rights, preferences, and expertise, who are able to rely on a system which supports them and only intervenes proportionately, and which has their health and wellbeing as its centre.”

‘Step towards’ the correct care

Reforms will better meet the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism ensuring mental health illness is the only reason for detention under the act.

The proposal will set to challenge attitudes that neither learning disability or autism are considered mental disorders for which someone can be detained for treatment under section 3 of the act.

The government has promised a £62 million Community Discharge Grant to further improve the process of discharging people with learning disabilities and autism from inpatient care.

Claire Murdoch, Mental Health Director for NHS England, said:

“The proposed reforms are a welcome step towards ensuring that people with mental health needs, a learning disability or autism, remain at the centre of decisions about their care, and that longstanding inequalities in experience and outcomes are addressed.”

Ministers hope to publish a Mental Health Bill in 2022 amid consultation on their plans.

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