Mental health patients must be given greater choice and control when outdated legislation is revised, the Law Society of England and Wales said following publication of an independent review of the Mental Health Act (1983).
“At the heart of this review is the principle - which we share - that giving mental health patients greater involvement in decisions about their own care and treatment tends to lead to better outcomes,” Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said.
“We have long said people detained for mental health problems need legislation that guards their rights and dignity effectively while ensuring their views and choices are respected.
“A shift in the balance of power between patients and professionals should mean people are supported to make more decisions for themselves.
“There is an urgent need to address the societal and cultural issues, recognised by the review, that contribute to the over-representation and negative experiences of people with Black African and Caribbean heritage under the current legislation.”
Policy makers will need to consider the interface between the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill currently going through Parliament, which determines how care and treatment is delivered to people who lack capacity to make their own choice, and who are deprived of their liberty. Key areas of overlap – in the delivery of care to young people, people with learning disabilities and autism for instance – will require particular attention.
Many of the independent review’s positive recommendations would need a substantial injection of resources to succeed:
- reducing compulsory detention depends upon more accessible and responsive crisis and community-based services
- transferring prisoners to secure hospitals within a 28-day time limit may require extra beds within the detention estate
- extending tribunals powers and increasing opportunities to appeal would require more hearings, and so more judges, panel members and tribunal staff
- empowering patients with an op-out advocacy entitlement would require more advocates to support them throughout their journey
- there will be a greater demand for aftercare services
- hospital environments will need to be modernised and refurbished to provide truly therapeutic environments for patients
“A major boost in funding is needed to realise the transformation of mental health services envisaged by this review,” Christina Blacklaws said.
“Every person who suffers with mental health issues should be treated in the least restrictive way possible and should only be detained against their will as the last resort if their health, safety or public protection depends on it.
“Attitudes and approaches to mental health have advanced exponentially since the Act was written. Legislation and the way treatment is delivered must reflect this progress.”
Notes to editors
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