Reforming The Mental Health Act
The UK government has announced plans to reform The Mental Health Act (1983) with a specific focus on eradicating racial disparities, meeting the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism and ensure appropriate care for people with serious mental illness within the criminal justice system.
For many people, the reform of The Mental Health Act has not come soon enough. In December 2018 an independent review of the Mental Health Act completed its work and made recommendations for improving this legislation. The UK Government has now published its full response as a White Paper. This is a first step towards changing the law.
The Mental Health Act 1983 is the legislation in England and Wales that sets out when people can be detained and treated for their mental health in hospital against their wishes. Over the last four decades, this has led to disparity amongst black people, for example, as black people are four times more likely to be detained and “more than 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order.” As The Guardian reported.
This is an alarming statistic and one that has prompted the government to act with Health Secretary Matt Hancock adding “I want to ensure our health service works for all, yet the Mental Health Act is now 40 years old. We need to bring mental health laws into the 21st century. Reforming the mental health Act is one of our central manifesto commitments, so the law helps get the best possible care to everyone who needs it.”
One of those 21st century shifts in focus is to cater for individual needs, rather than being classified as a patient within a certain demographic. With individuals having a more hands on approach to their care/treatment which Mr Hancock reiterates. “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.”
The proposals have been welcomed by most mental health advocates, who have described it as an important step forward to treating people with respect and dignity. Abdi Gure, the coordinator of the Hayaan Project that supports the London Somali community with mental health issues said: “I am really happy to see the government recommending culturally appropriate advocates as part of their reforms. Our work has shown this to be an effective way of supporting black patients with mental health problems. When this is practised, it has a huge impact on the patient’s recovery.”
However, not everyone is happy with the new proposals with Mind, the mental health charity, adding “We are concerned that the UK Government hasn’t fully accepted some of the Review’s recommendations, and on some areas that do not require legislation to be taken forward we are disappointed by the lack of progress.” Mind have yet to provide details of what areas don’t require legislation, but they will provide a formal response to the government’s white paper in the coming weeks.
What is clear, is that the proposals have been long overdue in what many feels is a backdated system. Sarah Hughes, Centre for Mental Health chief executive, said: “The need for change could not be clearer.” Further adding “We cannot allow this to continue, and we welcome the government’s commitment to change it.”