England: Reform of mental health law to give people ‘more control’ over care and treatment

England: Reform of mental health law to give people 'more control' over care and treatment

People detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 will benefit from landmark reforms providing them with more control over their care and treatment, the UK government has announced.

Ministers have published their plans to reform the 1983 Act following an independent review in 2018. A draft Mental Health Bill will be published next year. Among other aims, the reforms are intended to address racial disparities in the use of the legislation.

At present, black people are more than four times more likely to be detained under the Act and more than 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order.

Under the government’s plans, statutory “advance choice documents” will be introduced 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.

Individuals will also have the right 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, and the role of independent mental health advocates will be expanded to offer a greater level of support and representation to patients detained under the Act.

The proposal sets out that neither learning disability nor autism should be considered a mental disorder for which someone can be detained for treatment under section 3 of the Act. Instead, people with a learning disability or autistic people could only be detained for treatment if a co-occurring mental health condition is identified by clinicians.

There will also be significant changes in the criminal justice system. A 28-day time limit is being proposed to speed up the transfer of prisoners to hospital, ending unnecessary delays and ensuring they get the right treatment at the right time.

The government has also committed to ending the “outdated” practice of using prisons as ‘places of safety’ for defendants with acute mental illness. Instead, judges will work with medical professionals to ensure defendants can always be taken directly to a healthcare setting from court.

Victims of all mentally disordered offenders will be given the option of being assigned a dedicated victim liaison officer to keep them informed of key developments in the offender’s case, including when the patient is discharged.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “Prisons should be places where offenders are punished and rehabilitated, not a holding pen for people whose primary issue is their mental health.

“Keeping people safe must be at the heart of everything this government does, and the reforms announced today will allow us to do this while ensuring offenders still get the treatment their conditions require.”

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