Government announces major Mental Health Act reforms

The Mental Health Act will undergo major changes to better support people with conditions such as autism and mental health disorders, it has been announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the reforms will help level the playing field between mental and physical health services and tackle mental health inequalities.

The report comes after an independent review, led by Sir Simon Wessely, suggested that people with mental health disorders have little control over their treatment and are often detained against their will.

The investigation also found that a disproportionate number of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are detained under the Mental Health Act, with black people “four times more likely to be detained” and “over 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order”.

A number of changes have been set out in the Government’s Reforming the Mental Health Act white paper, which have been summarised below:

  • 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; and
  • improving access to community-based mental health support, including crisis care, to prevent avoidable detentions under the act

Commenting on the reforms, Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Nadine Dorries, said: “I am committed to improving people’s experience under the Mental Health Act, and most importantly to making sure their care and treatment works for them.

“We know people are too often disempowered and excluded from decisions, which is where the act, and our ability to successfully support people often fails.

“Informed by Sir Simon’s recommendations, we will transform the act to put patients at the centre of decisions about their own care.”

The Reforming the Mental Health Act white paper can be found here.

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