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Mental Health Act reform to bring care and treatment "into the 21st century"

Newly proposed changes to the Mental Health Act will give people more say in the care they receive, and address mental health disparities seen in people from specific backgrounds or with specific conditions.

First passed in 1983, the Mental Health Act has always been a heavily scrutinised law and has received several major amendments since its introduction.

With each amendment, concerns have been raised as to its suitability for modern life as attitudes toward mental health and the way it should be perceived and treated have evolved with time.

The new reform bill, which follows an independent review in 2018, aims to once again ensure the Act is fit for purpose and proposes ways to improve patient power and choice.

Proposals include the introduction of ‘advance choice documents’, which will let people decide what care they receive if they need to go into hospital in future, and the introduction of giving individuals the right to choose a nominated person to look after their interests if they aren’t able to do so themselves.

The role of independent mental health advocates is to be expanded also, in order to offer a greater level of support and representation to every patient detained under the act.

Measures to ensure people with autism or a learning disability are never grounds for detention for treatment are also outlined in the bill.

Under the new proposals, people with either a learning disability or autism can only be detained for treatment if another mental health condition is diagnosed.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, described the reforms as an attempt to bring the Mental Health Act "into the 21st century."

"These reforms will rightly see people not just as patients, but as individuals, with rights, preferences, and expertise, who are able to rely on a system which supports them and only intervenes proportionately, and which has their health and wellbeing as its centre," said Hancock.

As well as increasing patient autonomy, the reforms also include methods to tackle the disproportionate number of people from Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds detained under the Act.

To help achieve this goal, an NHS framework will be introduced – referred to as the Patient and Carers Race Equality Framework (PCREF) – which will help mental health trusts identify areas to address in order to improve outcomes among people from BAME communities.

In addition, culturally appropriate advocacy services will be piloted to provide people from BAME backgrounds with better support from people who understand their needs.

"This is a significant moment in how we support those with serious mental health issues, which will give people more autonomy over their care and will tackle disparities for all who access services, in particular for people from minority ethnic backgrounds."

The bill is currently at the white paper stage meaning it will now be subject to several rounds of scrutiny by members of parliament before a decision is made to pass it into law.

To read the full Reforming the Mental Health Act white paper, click here.


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