Government launches White Paper proposing reforms to Mental Health Act in England and Wales

Press release
15 January 2021

The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a White Paper detailing proposals to reform the Mental Health Act in England and Wales. The White Paper builds on the recommendations made by Professor Sir Simon Wessely’s Independent Review of the Mental Health Act in 2018 which set out what needed to change in both law and practice in order to deliver a modern mental health service that respects the patient’s voice and empowers individuals to shape their own care and treatment.

The Government’s proposed reforms aim to tackle the racial disparities in mental health services, better meet the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism and ensure appropriate care for people with serious mental illness within the criminal justice system.

The government will consult on a number of proposed changes, including:

  • introducing statutory ‘advance choice documents’ to enable people to express their wishes and preferences on their care when they are well, before the need arises for them to go into hospital
  • implementing the right for an individual to choose a nominated person who is best placed to look after their interests under the act if they aren’t able to do so themselves
  • expanding the role of independent mental health advocates to offer a greater level of support and representation to every patient detained under the act
  • piloting culturally appropriate advocates so patients from all ethnic backgrounds can be better supported to voice their individual needs
  • ensuring mental illness is the reason for detention under the act, and that neither autism nor a learning disability are grounds for detention for treatment of themselves
  • improving access to community-based mental health support, including crisis care, to prevent avoidable detentions under the act – this is already underway backed by £2.3 billion a year as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists co-hosted a launch event of the White Paper with the Department of Health and Social Care.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“The Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomes the publication of the white paper. This is a great opportunity to modernise mental health law and improve safeguards and support for people in a mental health crisis.
“The reform of the Mental Health Act will help ensure that patients are heard, their choices respected and that they are supported to get better in the least restrictive way.
“We will consult with our members on how the changes will work on the ground and look forward to engaging positively with the consultation over the coming months. This includes exploration of the resources necessary to implement the proposed changes.”

For more information, please see our page on reforming the Mental Health Act.

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