Just after two years of the publication of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, led by Professor Sir Simon Wessley, the Government published their highly-anticipated White Paper on Reforming the Mental Health Act on 13 January. Delayed due to various factors including the pandemic, the publication of the White Paper is a welcome step forward in modernising an outdated piece of legislation, which is used when people are most ill, vulnerable, and in need of help, but have to be detained against their will. And so it is vital that the MHA, described as a paradox that is both traumatic and confusing whilst being life-saving and an aid to recovery, is now aligned with the modern health system and support can be offered in an environment that is helpful and therapeutic, and can work better for everyone.
Welcoming the White Paper, Kathy Roberts commented:
“The Reforming the Mental Health Act White Paper and consultation present an important opportunity to modernise an outdated law, which we know is confusing, coercive, traumatic, and disproportionately impacts Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities. The proposals outlined are welcomed and we hope the new principles at the forefront of changes will give people the choice, control, respect and dignity that they deserve in receiving care – whilst, at the same time, reducing inequalities that we know exist in the system and through the use of the MHA.”
The Government’s proposed reforms aim to tackle the racial disparities in mental health services, provide an improved response to the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism, and ensure appropriate care for people with serious mental illness within the criminal justice system.
There are substantial disparities between different groups in terms of who becomes subject to the Act and the statistics are stark, particularly for black people who are four times more likely to be detained and ten times more likely to be discharged from hospital with the further restrictions of a Community Treatment Order (CTO). There is an urgent need to ensure that people of Black African and Caribbean descent with poor mental health receive the treatment and support they need without being discriminated against.
Sadly, the White Paper makes little mention of the role of the voluntary and community and social care sectors, with the exception of a passing reference in relation to the previously-announced investment through the NHS Long Term Plan. Additionally, a key line in the White Paper states the proposals outlined are “subject to future funding decisions, including at Spending Review 2021”. More resources need to be made available and merely, changing legislation will not have the desired impact and we may continue to see an increased number of people with mental health needs sectioned against their will.
Over the consultation period, The Association will be engaging with and seeking the views of our membership of voluntary and community sector providers of mental health services to inform our formal response to the White Paper.