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07 Nov 2023

SANE’s response to Government dropping Mental Health Act reform

The government will not reform the Mental Health Act before the next election.

The King’s Speech, which sets out the Government’s legislative agenda for the coming parliamentary year, was today delivered by King Charles in the Lords Chamber to mark the State Opening of Parliament.

The speech sets out the government’s last legislative programme before the General Election next year or early 2025 and failed to include a mental health bill, meaning that any reform will have to be carried out at the discretion of a future government.

Vulnerable people

Commenting on the absence of the Bill, Marjorie Wallace, founder and chief executive of SANE, said: “To see reform delayed betrays vulnerable people and their families and the realisation of the ambition of individual choice and control for patients.

“SANE is concerned and disappointed that a mental health bill is not included in the new legislative programme. A draft bill has already been through pre-legislative scrutiny, with MPs and Peers urging ministers to bring about long overdue reform to provide improved support and care for those deprived of their liberty.

“Now that the bill is not being proposed, we urge ministers to make the major investment needed in inpatient beds, community services and the psychiatric workforce so that people whose mental health is deteriorating can be helped before they reach crisis point and the Mental Health Act has to be used.

Backward step

“In the absence of Mental Health Act reform, it becomes increasingly urgent that more resources are put into mental health services so that fewer people need to be detained because they have been failed by overburdened services, becoming so ill that there is no alternative course of action.

“We fear the delay in introducing this important bill, with its potential for improving the lives of severely mentally ill people, is a backward step which will leave many thousands at risk of continuing inappropriate care and treatment.”


Parliament

Reform

In October 2017, the Government commissioned an independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983 in response to rising rates of detention and the disproportionate use of the Act among people from Black and minority ethnic groups.

The Government published the white paper, Reforming the Mental Health Act, in January 2021. Following a consultation period, the Government response was published in July 2021.

The draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech (PDF 406KB), last May.

draft Mental Health Bill was published in June 2022. It was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee from July to December. The Committee published its report on 19 January 2023.

Scrutiny

MPs and Peers said the Committee supported reform, but the Government must strengthen the Bill to address rising detention rates and racial inequalities.

Recommendations by the Committee included introducing a new statutory Mental Health Commissioner role, abolishing Community Treatment Orders for most patients and introducing statutory advance choice documents.

The Committee’s report was welcomed by mental health, learning disability and autism charities.

The Government has yet to respond to the January report.


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