Failure to include the Mental Health Bill in this year’s King’s Speech

 

AnnaKennedyOnline has been documenting the progress of the Mental Health Bill. The failure to include the Mental Health Bill in this year’s King’s Speech represents a massive, missed opportunity. Some background on this draft legislation will help substantiate this statement.

 

This Bill was presented in response to the 2018 Independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983, chaired by Professor Sir Simon Wessely. The review emphasised addressing the increasing number of people detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA) and focused on the disproportionate detention of ‘black or black British’ individuals. Many recommendations aimed to reform the MHA and improve patient rights were made albeit this Bill does not encompass all the recommendations and concentrates on enhancing the existing MHA.

 

While the proposed legislation is welcomed for introducing more choice, accountability, and oversight into MHA application, many experts question the adequacy of government resources for proper implementation, particularly in the context of strained mental health services. To ensure accountability and support ongoing reform, there is a recommendation to establish a Mental Health Commissioner, advocating for patients and their rights.

 

Racial and ethnic inequalities remain a critical issue, and we have seen no improvement since the inception of the Independent Review. The report suggests that health organisations should appoint responsible individuals to address and publish data on these inequalities, and a statutory right to culturally appropriate advocacy should be established.

 

Community Treatment Orders have long been criticised for being overused, especially among black patients, and a statutory process for their review and potential abolition is proposed. The draft Bill’s changes to the grounds for detention aim to increase accountability and patient benefit.

 

The draft Bill’s focus on reducing detentions of autistic people and those with learning disabilities is certainly welcomed, but concerns arise about potential detentions under different legal powers.

 

Enhancing patients’ ability to make choices about their care and treatment is considered a vital measure to reduce detentions and improve inequalities. The draft Bill’s provision for statutory Care and Treatment Plans again is welcomed, along with the recommendation for all detained patients to have the statutory right to create advance choice documents.

 

The legislation, while still inadequate in some areas, offers an opportunity to strengthen the rights and protections for children and young people under the MHA, avoiding their placement in adult or out-of-area wards and introducing a statutory test for ‘child capacity’.

 

Having said all of that, yesterday’s omission is concerning for two reasons. Firstly, it represents a massive, missed opportunity to make more changes to the statutory frameworks to assist people who are unquestionably among the most vulnerable in society. Secondly, the omission suggests that mental health, despite what is said, is not a priority – something which we genuinely hope is not the case.

 

AnnaKennedyOnline calls for the Government to ensure that Parliament continues to work on this Bill, build on its foundations, and put it on the statute book without delay. There literally is no time to lose.

 

Anna and Sean Kennedy 

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