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Government ‘must prioritise’ Mental Health Act reform

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(31 October 2022)

The Law Society has urged the government to make Mental Health Act reforms a priority after latest NHS statistics revealed a black person is four times more likely to be detained under the act than a white person.

Between April 2021 and March 2022, people were detained 53,337 times under the act. Black people were four times more likely to be detained than white people and 11 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order.

Following an independent review of the 1983 act, which found an ‘unacceptable overrepresentation’ of black people among those detained, the government pledged last year to deliver mental health legislation ‘fit for the 21st century’ that would address racial disparities ‘that have long been part of the way the act has been used’.

Society vice president Nick Emmerson said the latest figures show why reforming the act must be a priority. ‘The current system means there is a risk that compulsory detention and treatment is used too often and that patients do not have enough involvement in decisions about their care,’ he said.

‘We welcome the government’s commitment to reforming the Mental Health Act and support the introduction of new safeguards for patients refusing medication. These figures show why change must happen sooner, rather than later. There is also a need to ensure the Mental Health Tribunal is properly funded, given the increased role it will have under the government’s proposals.’

Under the 1983 act, the tribunal can make recommendations relating to a patient’s leave or transfer. They will be empowered to make directions under the government’s reforms.

Concerned that black people experience poorer outcomes, Emmerson said the act should be used in the least restrictive way possible. People who are detained against their will should have their views and choices respected.

‘We are monitoring the progress of the draft Mental Health Bill and will work to ensure this vital legislation enables patients to have a greater say in their care and ensures access to justice by enabling people to challenge inappropriate treatment.’

A committee established by both houses of parliament will continue to scrutinise the bill this week. An evidence session on Wednesday will focus on changes to the criteria for detention and treatment, and the impact of the proposed changes when the act is applied to patients in the criminal justice system.

A government spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to ending the unequal treatment of people from Black and other ethnic minority backgrounds with mental illness, and introduced Seni’s law to reduce the use of inappropriate force in mental health settings.

‘Our draft Mental Health Bill is currently going through pre-legislative scrutiny and is designed to ensure anyone in a mental health crisis is treated with dignity and respect – regardless of their ethnicity – and are given greater control over their treatment.’

The government said it is piloting culturally appropriate advocacy services to support people from ethnic minority backgrounds who access mental health services in Manchester, London, Oxfordshire and the Black Country. NHS England is also setting up a patient and carer race equalities framework to assist mental health trusts with practical steps to improve the experience of care for people from ethnic minority communities.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)