“People need to be at the heart of this legislation”: Mental Health Act reform

Rosena Allin-Khan

Below is the full text of Dr Rosena Allin-Khan’s response to the statement by Matt Hancock unveiling the mental health white paper.

This overhaul of the Mental Health Act has been long awaited. We welcome this white paper and the fact that the government has accepted the majority of the recommendations from Sir Simon Wessely’s independent review of the Mental Health Act.

Without a doubt, people need to be at the heart of this legislation. Service users must be involved in framing this legislation going forward. When we talk of numbers and statistics, we must remember that these are real people, with real lives and real families – there is a web of individuals who are affected when things go wrong.

Deprivation of liberty and the use of coercion can cause lasting trauma and distress – this is especially true for children and young people who find themselves in these most difficult of situations and whose voices are often not heard when decisions are being made and it is an important step that learning disabilities or autism will no longer be grounds for detention under the Act.

It is very welcome that the recommendation on Nominated Persons has been included. The best way to reduce coercion and detention is to have alternatives to admission. Can the Secretary of State outline how this will be achieved?

Community provision is vital for mental health services that are truly joined up and crucially, work well for the patient. Will the Secretary of State also be able to give reassurances on community care? It is within our communities where we witness the harsh reality of the health inequalities that so desperately need to be addressed.

Social inequalities, and adverse childhood experiences that are drivers of mental ill health, cannot be ignored. Children from the poorest 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 as those from the wealthiest 20%.

This will not simply be solved by mental health legislative changes. There must be a commitment to addressing the vast chasm of health inequalities across the country. At present, Black people are over four times more likely to be detained.

We need to advance the mental health equality framework and there must be culturally appropriate services and the freedom for local areas to look at their specific populations in order to have suitable approaches.

Absolutely crucial to ensuring that mental health services are fit for purpose are mental health staffing levels. The proposals set out by the Secretary of State go well beyond what has been committed in the Long Term Plan.

We need to see true understanding from this government that mental health isn’t about promising fancy equipment – it’s about people. The promises in this white paper rely on a workforce – our fantastic frontline mental health staff, of which there are simply too few at present.

Can the Secretary of State outline when we will get the workforce settlement? And what reassurance can he give on filling training places?

It has already taken so long to get to this point – it was the former Prime Minister who started this process back in 2016. Could the Secretary of State provide clarity on the time-frame?

Given the complexities of the legislation and the need for it to be robust, what are the plans for a joint pre-legislation committee?

It is vital that the blueprint Sir Simon Wessely’s report set out is implemented in full. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for all the work he has done on this review.

We must act, and act quickly. Covid has shown us all how the pressures on mental health are building and we need action now. We all know how rare these pieces of legislation are – this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity – we simply must get this right for everyone who depends on these services.

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