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Government publishes draft Mental Health Bill as reforms beckon

The government has today published its draft Mental Health Bill, which will now be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny from a select parliamentary committee.

The new bill aims to grant those suffering from a mental health crisis greater autonomy and choice, as well as eliminating racial health inequalities in mental health services, and ensuring the needs of those with learning disabilities or autism are also met.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “This is a significant moment in supporting people with serious mental health issues. We’re investing more money to ensure NHS patients have tailored services and support, so people in a mental health emergency get the right care at the right time.

“Our reforms to the outdated Mental Health Act are another important milestone in better supporting those with serious mental health issues and giving people greater control over their treatment, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds who are disproportionately detained under the Act.”

The government also plan to invest £150m into the NHS mental health services over the next three years, which will enhance support for those suffering from a crisis outside of A&E and improve patient safety in mental health suites.

The funding includes £7m ringfenced for the introduction of specialised mental health ambulances, with the aim of reducing – and potentially eventually supplanting – the number of general ambulances call outs for someone suffering from a mental health crisis.

This will alleviate some of the pressure on NHS services and ultimately improve health outcomes by ensuring patients see the right type of health professional at the right time.

All of which were recommendations from Professor Sir Simon Wessely’s independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983 a few years ago.

Minister for Mental Health, Gillian Keegan, said: “It’s crucial NHS’s mental health care and treatment works for people.

“I’ve heard first-hand the anguish of patients and their families when they have been subject to inappropriate care. Bolstering the mental health support available to people in a crisis will ensure patients are at the centre of decisions about their own care if they’re detained under the Act.

“I look forward to receiving the committee’s feedback on the draft Bill so we can bring the Act into the twenty-first century.”

The reforms to the Mental Health Act will tackle the ingrained health disparities across the system, including dealing with the racial health disparities observed under the current Act. Black people are over four times more likely to be detained under the Act, as well as being over 10 times more likely to receive a community treatment order.

A cultural shift is already underway in the NHS, with NHS England developing a Patient and Carer Race Equalities Framework – designed to ensure those from ethnic minority communities receive proper care from mental health trusts.

The changes also look to rectify the way in which those with learning disabilities or autism are treated under the section three of the Act, meaning that having a learning disability or autism are no longer reasons to be detained under the Act, and that an individual should only be detained if a clinician has identified a mental health condition.

NHS Mental Health Director, Claire Murdoch, said: “This is a significant and welcome milestone towards the much-needed reform of the Mental Health Act and I look forward to working with the Government on developing a plan for implementing these changes.”

This is all the latest in a series of government actions that tackle mental health in various different ways, including confronting men’s mental health, and addressing the health inequalities among students after an unprecedentedly tumultuous time for them, whilst the NHS continue to roll out innovations in the face of adversity.

More information about the draft and its proposed reforms is available here, with the Bill itself available here.

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NHE May/June 2024

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