Is It Time To Change The Mental Health Act?


The Law Of... Protecting Those With Mental Health Concerns

The Mental Health Act of 1983 is legislation that was put in place to cover the treatment and care of those suffering with mental difficulties. Despite several amendments, there are many calls for the act to be changed and a review has now been announced.

Alison Hills, a specialist Medical Negligence solicitor, investigates whether the act should be changed completely and whether it is really doing enough to protect patients.

What Is The Mental Health Act?

The Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) is a piece of legislation which covers the treatment and care of those suffering with mental health difficulties. In particular, it provides legal authority to detain patients and offenders with mental disorders in hospital against their wishes, if they are considered to be a risk to themselves or others. This is more commonly known as “sectioning”.

Since the inception of the Act, there have been 3 amendments; in 1995, 2001 and most recently in 2007. The 2007 amendments established significant changes including redefinition of professional roles and the introduction of the controversial “Community Treatment Order.”

Why Does The Mental Health Act Need Changing?

Over the years, there have been a number of concerns in the way in which the MHA is used. This includes the rising number of detentions, and in particular the disproportionate detention of those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

In addition to this, concerns have been raised about the use of “Community Treatment Orders”. This order allows Community Mental Health Teams to assert control over a patient’s treatment in the community, even after they have been discharged from hospital. This includes the power to recall them if certain conditions are not adhered to.

As well as this, there are mounting concerns surrounding the lack of involvement in the care planning process that patients and their families have. Under Section 11 of the Act, the “nearest relative” of the patient also has the right to object to their relative’s detention and the right to be involved in decisions relating to their treatment and care.

Despite this, the “nearest relative” can be displaced via County Court proceedings and be replaced by a member of Social Services; the very same people who make the application to detain. This only serves to increase the anxiety of a patient already under a significant amount of distress, having been detained against their will.

Louise Rubin, head of policy and campaigns at MIND, the Mental Health Charity, comments:

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of an independent review into the Mental Health Act. Being detained under the Mental Health Act is one of the most serious things that can happen to someone when it comes to their mental health. At over thirty years old, the current legislation is outdated and not in line with the principles of modern healthcare”.

She further states:

“Overhauling the Mental Health Act needs to be done in full consultation with and led by people with lived experience. People who are at their most unwell need choice, control and dignity and legislation needs to support that.”

Will Reforming The Act Help?

Alison shared her thoughts on the news that the MHA is up for review:

“It is quite clear that things need to change and that there needs to be much more proactive involvement between community mental health services and patients to avoid further unnecessary detentions.”

“It is simply scandalous that at present the very people who can detain a patient also have the right to overrule the wishes of the patient’s family.”

“If you feel that you or a loved one has been detained wrongly, or you have any concerns regarding any aspects of treatment or care under the Act, you should seek immediate legal advice.”

Alison Hills is a solicitor in the medical negligence team at Simpson Millar and a Law Society accredited specialist in Mental Health. If you or a loved one have any concerns regarding any aspects of treatment under the Act then please contact a member of our medical negligence team today.

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