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MENTAL HEALTH LAWS TO UNDERGO LANDMARK REFORM

People with mental health issues who are detained under the Mental Health Act will benefit from landmark reforms which provide more control over their care and treatment, the government has announced today.

People with mental health issues who are detained under the Mental Health Act will benefit from landmark reforms which provide more control over their care and treatment, the government has announced today.

A package of reforms has been set out in a wide-ranging new Reforming the Mental Health Act White Paper, which builds on the recommendations made by Sir Simon Wessely’s Independent Review of the Mental Health Act in 2018.  

At the heart of the proposed reforms to the Mental Health Act is greater choice and autonomy for patients in a mental health crisis, ensuring the Act’s powers are used in the least restrictive way, that patients receive the care they need to help them recover and all patients are viewed and treated as individuals.

These 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.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I want to ensure our health service works for all, yet The Mental Health Act is now 40 years old. We need to bring mental health laws into the 21st century. Reforming the Mental Health Act is one of our central manifesto commitments, so the law helps get the best possible care to everyone who needs it. 

“These reforms will rightly see people not just as patients, but as individuals, with rights, preferences, and expertise, who are able to rely on a system which supports them and only intervenes proportionately, and which has their health and wellbeing as its centre.”

The White Paper sets out the path towards the Government’s commitment to introduce the first new Mental Health Bill for 30 years, and end the stigma of mental illness once and for all.

Decisive action will be taken to help tackle the disproportionate number of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities detained under the Mental Health Act. Black people are over four times more likely to be detained under the Act and over ten times more likely to be subject to a Community Treatment Order.

A national organisational competency framework for NHS Mental Health Trusts will be introduced, referred as the ‘Patient and Carers Race Equality Framework’ (PCREF).  The PCREF will be a practical tool which enables Mental Health Trusts to understand what steps it needs to take to improve Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities’ mental health outcomes.

Improved culturally-appropriate advocacy services will be piloted where needed, so people from BAME backgrounds can be better supported by people who understand their needs.

The reforms will also change the way people with a learning disability and autistic people are treated in law by recognising a mental health inpatient setting is often not the best place to meet their specific needs.

The proposal sets out that neither learning disability nor autism should be considered a mental disorder for which someone can be detained for treatment under Section 3 of the Act. Instead, people with a learning disability or autistic people could only be detained for treatment if a co-occurring mental health condition is identified by clinicians.

Significant investment in community support has led to a 29% reduction since 2015 in the number of people with a learning disability and autistic people in a mental health inpatient setting. The government has established the £62m Community Discharge Grant to make further progress on discharging people with learning disabilities and autism from inpatient care. The proposed changes in the legislation will help to further reduce reliance on inpatient care. 

The White Paper also takes steps to ensure parity between mental health and physical health services. The government is already investing over £400 million to eradicate dormitories in mental health facilities as part of its response to Sir Simon’s recommendations and its commitment to level up access to mental health services and rebuild better than before, so people admitted to hospital can receive care in a modern and genuinely therapeutic environment.

High-impact changes are already under way – including vital capital spend on the mental health estate, and work to pilot and develop the Patient and Carer Race Equality Framework.

For changes which require legislation, consultations will continue until early spring 2021 to listen to the concerns people have, and a draft Mental Health Bill will be shared next year.

The benefits of reform will also be felt by people with serious mental illness within the criminal justice system. A 28-day time limit is being proposed to speed up the transfer of prisoners to hospital, ending unnecessary delays and ensuring they get the right treatment at the right time.

The Government also commits to ending the outdated practice of using prisons as ‘places of safety’ for defendants with acute mental illness. Instead, judges will work with medical professionals to ensure defendants can always be taken directly to a healthcare setting from court.

Victims of all mentally disordered offenders will now have the option of being assigned a dedicated Victim Liaison Officer to keep them informed of key developments in the offender’s case, including when the patient is discharged.

Claire Murdoch, Mental Health Director for NHS England, said: “The proposed reforms are a welcome step towards ensuring that people with mental health needs, a learning disability or autism, remain at the centre of decisions about their care, and that longstanding inequalities in experience and outcomes are addressed.

“The NHS is delivering a package of important measures set out in our NHS Long Term Plan to transform mental health, learning disability and autism services, which will ensure everyone can access the right treatment for their needs, when they need it most, which will improve lives and help to implement the Mental Health Act reforms effectively.”

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