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Review of mental health legislation announced

Theresa May announces review of mental health legislation following rise in detentions

Published on 6th October 2017

The prime minister has launched an independent review of mental health legislation following concerns over detention rates.

Theresa May launched the review, which will be chaired by Sir Simon Wessely, after it emerged that the number of detentions under the Mental Health Act have risen to 180 cases a day. People from black and minority ethnic populations are disproportionately affected, with black people in particular being almost four times more likely than white people to be detained.

The review will look at existing practice and evidence and consider the needs of service users and their families, in order to tackle injustices and improve the system for people with mental health problems experiencing a crisis.

The review will explore:

  • why rates of detention are increasing – what can be done to reduce inappropriate detention and improve how different agencies respond to people in crisis
  • reasons for the disproportionate number of people from certain ethnic backgrounds, in particular black people, being detained under the act, and what should be done about it

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, of which Sir Simon Wessely is former chair, has welcomed the prime minister’s announcement. “We have been concerned about the rising numbers of detention and the disproportionate detentions of people from ethnic minorities and believe the underlying circumstances for this should be examined. People detained under the Mental Health Act are at their most vulnerable and have a right to the best possible care and support. We look forward to a wide consultation with patients, carers and professionals,” said a spokesperson for the RCP

Danielle Hamm, Associate Director of Campaigns and Policy at Rethink Mental Illness said:  “The Mental Health Act is over thirty years old; it is out of date. We welcome this review as an opportunity to identify where the Act is currently failing people with mental illness, which it too often is, and make it fit for purpose.

“It is vital that this review listens to and works with people who are, or have been, held under the Act. Last year over 60,000 people were detained under the Mental Health Act and many thousands more are affected as friends, carers and family members. These voices need to be heard.

“It is only with their full involvement that we will get a robust review and the changes everyone needs. We look forward to working with the independent review to make this happen and make this change a reality,” she added.

The Mental Health Act sets out rights and obligations that govern when and how the state can detain and treat someone in relation to their mental illness. It includes specific provision for individuals in contact with the criminal justice system.

Following consultation with stakeholders, Sir Simon Wessely will produce an interim report identifying priorities for the review’s work in early 2018, and develop a final report containing detailed recommendations on its priorities, by autumn 2018.

The review is part of a set of measures to improve mental health provision and tackle what the prime minister has described as the ‘burning injustice’ of mental illness.

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