An independent review of mental health legislation has been launched by the government.
Prime minister Theresa May has announced the independent review following concerns that detention rates under the Mental Health Act are too high.
Former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Sir Simon Wessely will chair the review which will seek to address concerns about how the legislation is currently being used, and give recommendations for improving practice in the future.
Louise Rubin, Head of Policy and Campaigns at mental health charity Mind, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of an independent review into the Mental Health Act. Being detained under the Mental Health Act is one of the most serious things that can happen to someone when it comes to their mental health. At over thirty years old, the current legislation is outdated and not in line with the principles of modern health care.”
The review will look at existing practice and evidence. It will consider the needs of service users and their families, in order to tackle injustices and improve how the system supports people during a mental health crisis.
In particular, the review will consider:
- why rates of detention are increasing – what can be done to reduce inappropriate detention and improve how different agencies respond to people in crisis
- reasons for the disproportionate number of people from certain ethnic backgrounds, in particular black people, being detained under the act, and what should be done about it
The Mental Health Act sets out rights and obligations that govern when and how the state can detain and treat someone in relation to their mental illness. It includes specific provision for individuals in contact with the criminal justice system.
The number of detentions has been rising year on year. Last year on average there were 180 cases a day where people were sectioned under the terms of the act. People from black and minority ethnic populations are disproportionately affected, with black people in particular being almost four times more likely than white people to be detained.
Ms Rubin said: “In the last ten years in England, we’ve seen a 47 per cent rise in the Act being used to detain people, with BAME communities disproportionately affected – this shows that neither the Act, nor wider mental health care, are currently working as they should to support people when they are unwell. Any new legislation to replace the existing Act needs to ensure people with mental health problems have more involvement in decisions about their care.
“Most importantly, overhauling the Mental Health Act needs to be done in full consultation with and led by people with lived experience. People who are at their most unwell need choice, control and dignity and legislation needs to support that. We can’t look at the Act in isolation, without also addressing underlying failures in mental health services that see people ending up in crisis. Changes to legislation need to be in line with the delivery of the ambitious plan to transform mental health services over the next five years.”
Danielle Hamm, Associate Director of Campaigns and Policy at Rethink Mental Illness said: “The Mental Health Act is over thirty years old; it is out of date. We welcome this review as an opportunity to identify where the Act is currently failing people with mental illness, which it too often is, and make it fit for purpose.
“It is vital that this review listens to and works with people who are, or have been, held under the Act. Last year over 60,000 people were detained under the Mental Health Act and many thousands more are affected as friends, carers and family members. These voices need to be heard.
“It is only with their full involvement that we will get a robust review and the changes everyone needs. We look forward to working with the independent review to make this happen and make this change a reality,” she added.
Following consultation with stakeholders, Sir Simon Wessely will produce an interim report identifying priorities for the review’s work in early 2018, and develop a final report containing detailed recommendations on its priorities, by autumn 2018.
The review is part of a set of measures to improve mental health provision and tackle what the Prime Minister has described as the ‘burning injustice’ of mental illness.