Updated: Dec 20, 2020
The Labour Party, ex-health ministers and senior charity figures are urging MPs to end the delayed implementation of a law preventing dangerous restraint practices in mental health units.
The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018, nicknamed "Seni's law", has remained in implementation limbo since being passed two years ago.
The law came into existence following the death of 23-year-old Olaseni Lewis, a young black man who died at Bethlem Royal psychiatric hospital after being restrained by 11 police officers.
An inquiry into Lewis' death found that he died of a lack of oxygen to the brain, known as 'cerebral hypoxia', following what was concluded as a 'disproportionate' use of force to restrain him.
The legislation includes requirements for police officers working in mental health units to wear body cameras where reasonable; for hospitals to report any incidents involving physical force; and for any patient death reports to be reviewed by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock.
Once passed, laws usually take up to a few weeks to be implemented. But having now waited two years for Seni's law to be implemented, several figures have co-signed a letter for current mental health minister, Nadine Dorries, to finally put the law in practice.
Signatories include Lewis' parents, Aji and Conrad Lewis, former Conservative mental health minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, former Liberal Democrat minister for mental health, Sir Norman Lamb, ex-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Sir Simon Wessely, and chief executive of Mind, Paul Farmer.
Speaking to The Guardian, Steve Reed, shadow communities secretary and Lewis' former MP, said: “The use of force against people with mental ill-health is a national scandal. Parliament passed legislation to end these abuses against mental health patients, but two years later it still hasn’t come into force because the government has failed to trigger it.
“If the government truly cares about mental health patients’ safety then ministers must bring Seni’s law into force without further delay.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has not offered an explanation for the delay, but it has stated that it is seeking statutory guidance for the law – a usual sign that a law will be implemented.