Legal Eagle: Reform of Mental Health Act

The Government announced its intention to reform mental health legislation in England and Wales in the Queen’s Speech on 21 June. This comes after Prime Minister Theresa May has made clear that she intends to prioritise mental illness, giving it parity with physical health.

The Government announced its intention to reform mental health legislation in England and Wales in the Queen’s Speech on 21 June. This comes after Prime Minister Theresa May has made clear that she intends to prioritise mental illness, giving it parity with physical health.

In 2014-15 63,000 people were detained under the Mental Health Act, an increase of 43% compared with 2005-06. Black people are disproportionately affected with a detention rate of 56.9 per 100 patients compared to 37.5 per 100 among white patients.

The government’s intention is that new laws will halt a steep rise in the number of people being detained. The proposed new legislation would also introduce safeguards to end current rules that mean detained patients can be treated against their will, so that those with the mental capacity to refuse would be able to do so. It would also include a code of practice aimed at reducing the disproportionate detention of minority groups. Every school would have staff trained in mental health first aid and the Equalities Act would be altered to end workplace discrimination.

The Queen’s speech set out that the government would:

l Look at why rates of detention are increasing and take the necessary action to improve service responses;

l Examine the disproportionate number of those from certain ethnic backgrounds, in particular black people, who are detained under the Act;

l Review the use of Community Treatment Orders, to see if they remain fit for purpose in helping people leaving hospital to receive better care and support in the community;

l Consider how the rights of family members to get information about the mental health and treatment of their loved ones can be improved;

l Ensure that those with mental ill health are treated fairly, protected from discrimination, and employers fulfil their responsibilities effectively.

While the announcement was welcomed by mental health campaigners, there have also been warnings that a lack of resources, rather than badly drafted laws, has been the real driver of the increase in detention. Whilst the conservatives are pledging to hire 10,000 staff in the NHS by 2020 it cannot be ignored that there has been a reduction of 6,610 nurses working in mental health since 2010 and between 2011 and 2014 there was a 7% reduction in the number of inpatient beds with “out of area” beds rising by almost a quarter in 2014-15. In addition, 30% of delayed discharges from psychiatric inpatient units are associated with the absence of good-quality, well-resourced community teams.

The overhaul is being described by the Conservatives as the biggest change to the law on mental health treatment in more than three decades.

l Ben Hoare Bell LLP has accredited Mental Health Solicitors who can advise on legal issues surrounding mental health. To speak to a Solicitor please phone 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk. Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk for more information.