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Mental Health Act reform: Parliamentary committee publishes its report

19 January 2023

An influential joint committee of parliamentarians who have been scrutinising the draft legislation of the Mental Health Bill published their report today.

Overall, the Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill backed the government’s approach of amending the current Mental Health Act, rather than starting from scratch. However, they recommended a number of significant improvements including a new Mental Health Commissioner, abolition of most Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) and better access to Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs).

Jonathan Senker, VoiceAbility’s chief executive said:

The Joint Committee should be commended on their considered proposals to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities and autistic people at risk of detention in mental health hospitals. They recognise the appalling experience and consequences of unnecessary hospitalisation, often for very many years. At the same time, they emphasise that changing the detention criteria without addressing the underlying issues, risks people being put in hospital, or even prison, in yet worse circumstances or with weaker protections.

The raft of measures recommended by the Committee are well considered. These range from ensuring stronger national leadership, including with a Commissioner and proper programme to implementing and monitor change, to strengthening legal duties on health and care bodies to provide better community support, as well as a change to the criteria for detention when the conditions are right. This staged approach cannot be allowed to let the government off the hook from leading action with the utmost urgency to address what remains a terrible situation for many of the 2,000 people with learning disabilities and autistic people who are detained, and awful prospect for many more people at risk of unnecessary hospitalisation. 

We urge the government to respond positively to the Joint Committee’s recommendations, and more importantly to implement them with urgency, vigour and continual feedback from people who use mental health services. If they do, there may finally by some hope on the horizon for people who rely on intensive mental health support.

Jonathan Senker, Chief Executive

Stephen Hinchley, Mental Health Act lead for VoiceAbility said:

We warmly welcome the Joint Committee’s recognition that we need to do something different to improve advocacy services for people with a learning disability and autistic people. We have already published proposals for a nationally commissioned advocacy service and we hope the government will urgently pick up the committee’s recommendation to examine the case for this in more detail.

The committee’s endorsement of opt-out as a means to improve access to advocacy services is also very welcome and that this provision should also apply to voluntary patients. Our research shows that this can have a positive impact on people’s experiences of mental health care and treatment. Making sure opt-out also applies to voluntary patients would be of particular benefit for children and young people, as the committee highlights.”

When reviewing the draft Bill’s proposals for advocacy services, the Joint Committee has recommended:

  • extending opt-out advocacy services to voluntary patients’
  • a statutory right to request Culturally-Appropriate Advocacy
  • that government should examine the case for a Central Advocacy Service, to meet the needs of specific groups who may otherwise go unsupported such as people with a learning disability and autistic people

The government now has to respond to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill within the next two months. VoiceAbility will continue to call for reform of our mental health laws and for the changes that we know would deliver better outcomes and experiences for people when they are receiving care and treatment for a mental health condition.