Mental Health Act reforms announced in Queen’s Speech

After five years of working with the Government, the College welcomed proposed reforms to the Mental Health Act which were announced in the Queen’s Speech – but pledged to lobby Government for the resources to help deliver the changes.

On 10 May the Queen’s Speech outlined the Government’s legislative agenda for the next session of Parliament. The speech announced 38 new Bills, including the ‘Draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill’.

The draft Bill will reform The Mental Health Act and will be the most significant piece of legislative change in the field of mental health for 40 years.

Some of the key changes the draft Bill will make to the Act are in reference to people with an intellectual disability. The Bill will also address disparities in the use of the Act towards people from ethnic minority backgrounds and aims to improve care for prisoners with acute mental health needs.

The main elements of the draft Bill are as follows:

  • Amending the definition of mental disorder so that people can no longer be detained solely because they have a learning disability or because they are autistic.
  • Changing the criteria needed to detain people, so that the Act is only used where strictly necessary: where the person is a genuine risk to their own safety or that of others, and where there is a clear therapeutic benefit.
  • Giving patients better support, including offering everyone the option of an independent mental health advocate, and allowing patients to choose their own ‘nominated person’, rather than have a ‘nearest relative’ assigned for them.
  • Introducing a 28-day time-limit for transfers from prison to hospital for acutely ill prisoners and ending the temporary use of prison for those awaiting assessment or treatment.
  • Introducing a new form of supervised community discharge. This will allow the discharge of restricted patients into the community, with the necessary care and supervision to adequately and appropriately manage their risk.
  • Increasing the frequency with which patients can make appeals to Tribunals on their detention and provide Tribunals with a power to recommend that aftercare services are put in place.
  • Introducing a statutory care and treatment plan for all patients in detention. This will be written with the patient and will set out a clear pathway to discharge.

The College welcomed the proposed reforms to the Act, however we noted during the announcement, the Government made no mention of any the additional workforce planning or extra investment that will be needed if the aims of the Bill are to be fully realised.

The College is concerned that the reforms will not be deliverable without the required investment in the psychiatric, and wider mental health workforce.

The draft Bill is expected to be published this summer and we will be engaging with the Government and Parliamentarians throughout its legislative journey.

Other bills announced in the legislative programme which are priorities for our Parliamentary and political engagement include the Online Safety Bill, which will introduce a duty of care on online companies, making them responsible for protecting users and tackling illegal content.

The Conversion Therapy Bill will ban therapy practices intended to change sexual orientation. However, the Bill does not include a ban on conversion therapies for transgender people and the College is working with a range of partners with the aim of addressing this omission.

The Government will also be introducing a new Bill of Rights. It lists the main purpose of the Bill is to ‘end abuse of the human rights framework’ and we shall be monitoring the Bill very closely to consider its likely impact.

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