Today, the King’s Speech did not mention the Mental Health Bill. This means that vital reforms to the Mental Health Act are very unlikely to happen before the next general election, as promised in the Conservative Party’s manifestos of 2017 and 2019.
What is the Mental Health Act?
The Mental Health Act is the law in England and Wales which says anyone can be detained (or sectioned) and be given mental health treatment against their will, to keep them and others safe.
The Act was established over 40 years ago and, along with other national mental health charities including Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, we believe it’s no longer fit for purpose.
What were the proposed changes?
In December 2018, mental health campaigners gave recommendations to an independent review panel for improvements to the Act.
From these recommendations, the government published a draft Mental Health Bill in 2022. The draft legislation maps out the changes and has support from all political parties.
These changes included:
- People to have an automatic right to assessment and treatment, meaning people will get the support they need when they need it.
- Community treatment orders to be abolished. These orders give people conditions to follow when they are discharged from hospital, but they restrict people’s lives and it’s clear that they don’t reduce readmissions to hospital, which is what they were designed for.
- Advance choice documents for everyone in a mental health hospital. These would give people much more of a say in how they are treated.
- People to have a right to appeal decisions they don’t agree with.
- Everyone in a mental health hospital to automatically get an advocate (unless they don’t want one), to help them express their choices and views.
- Young people to be placed in appropriate settings (i.e. not adult wards) and a test for under 16s to check if they have capacity to make decisions about their treatment.
These changes would all have made the Act fairer to people of different ages, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds; given people more choice about the care they receive; and strengthened the rights of people in mental health hospitals.
The dropping of any mention of the Mental Health Bill from the King’s Speech means that it’s highly unlikely that we will see the promised reforms to the Mental Health Act before the next election.
Everyturn Mental Health’s Chief Operating Officer, Andy Wright, commented:
“Today the government has failed to honour its commitment to mental health. The Mental Health Act is over 40 years old and is long overdue reform, to keep pace with what people with mental health issues tell us is important to them.
“The Act also perpetuates inequalities of race, age, and economic circumstance. Over 50,000 people were held under the Mental Health Act last year; the reforms given in the Mental Health Bill would bring more choice, independence, and dignity for people who are detained in the future.
“People with mental health problems, professionals, and campaigners have given so much of their time, expertise, and passion to reform this legislation to make it fit for a modern, compassionate society. These reforms have been waiting over five years for approval, so today is a huge blow to everyone involved.
“At Everyturn, we’ll continue to work with other like-minded organisations, campaign groups, and parliamentary supporters to ensure the Mental Health Act reforms so desperately needed are brought to life.
“We will also make sure that there’s immediate support available to people who need to access mental health services right now, by continuing to develop accessible, community-based mental health services, so that no one is left to struggle alone.”