Jon Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health: The Independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983

The Mental Health Act 1983 is the main piece of legislation that covers the assessment, treatment and rights of people with a mental health issue. In October 2017 the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced a review of the Mental Health Act to address rising detentions, racial disparity in the use of the Act and concerns about human rights and dignity.

This rise in detentions can be seen locally with the number of people detained increasing from 45 to 185 between March 2018 and February 2019.There are many factors that contribute to this increase including real-term funding cuts which means that money is not reaching the frontline and more people are not getting the help they need and when its needed.

In December last year the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, chaired by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, published its recommendations to the Government.

This Review lays down four key principles that should underpin any future legislation:

  • Choice and autonomy – ensuring service users’ views and choices are respected.
  • Least restriction – ensuring the Act’s powers are used in the least restrictive way.
  • Therapeutic benefit – ensuring patients are supported to get better, so they can be discharged from the Act.
  • People as individuals – ensuring patients are viewed and treated as rounded individuals.

The Review made 154 recommendations, but the Government has only committed to taking forward two, namely, introducing Advanced Choice Documents and changes to the ‘Nearest Relative’ mechanism. I am appalled that almost nine months later the Government has still not published its response to the Review.

One of the Review’s key recommendations is a right to advocacy. Currently under the 1983 Act only people who are sectioned have a right to an advocate, but under the Review’s recommendations services would have to follow an ‘opt out’ model of advocacy. This means that any person in a mental health crisis, who is significantly unwell, or whose disability affects their ability to understand and communicate, will have access to an advocate who sees things from their perspective and understands their rights.

An Independent Mental Health Advocate can make a huge difference for people with mental health issues. An advocate can help them understand any medical treatment they are undergoing, conditions and any restrictions that they may be subject to, provide legal advice and help them represent their views and rights. I know that Lamp has three specialist Mental Health Advocates who help people with mental health issues and their carers. Having an advocate can make a positive impact on the quality of support and care that a mental health patient receives and can reduce the number of people in crisis. I am thankful for Lamp’s excellent work especially now given the high numbers of detentions and mental health services being under more pressure than ever.

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