Review of Mental Health Act must address excessive detention rates

My Post (4)Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday 4 October was one mired by illness, a prankster and a backdrop that fell apart, presenting journalists with countless opportunities for cheap metaphors. But while the gaffs of her mea culpa overshadowed the announcement of new policies, for those that could see past the cringe-induced spectacle there were a number of interesting points.

One of these announcements was how the Government would be carrying out an independent review of the Mental Health Act. Building on her Brexit speech in January, where she vowed to correct the ‘burning injustices’ in modern society, May explained how a particular priority for her was ‘tackling the injustice and stigma associated with mental health’ (May, 2017).

She emphasised her desire for parity between mental and physical health through reiterating the Government’s pledge of increased investment in mental health. Recent announcements of an additional £1.3 billion to transform mental health services by 2021 (Health Education England, (HEE), 2017) were met with mixed reactions from key health bodies. It was said the funding will go towards the creation of 21 000 new posts, including 4600 nurses working in crisis care settings and 1200 nurses and midwives in child and adolescent mental health services (Department of Health, 2017). However, organisations such as the Royal College of Nursing said the Government’s proposals ‘appear not to add up’ (Royal College of Nursing, 2017). Other policies include giving an extra 1 million patients access to mental health services at an earlier stage, round-the-clock services and the integration of mental and physical health services for the first time.

The Mental Health Act
The Mental Health Act was passed in 1983 and is the main piece of legislation that sets out when and how a person can be detained and treated in relation to their mental illness. People detained under the Mental Health Act need urgent treatment for a mental health disorder and are deemed to be at risk of harm to themselves or others. In May’s speech she argued that the three decades old legislation is leading to ‘shortfalls in services and is open to misuse’ (May 2017). While the Mental Health Act was amended in 2007, it is felt by many that a more substantial revision is needed. This amendment was originally a proposed bill, but many felt it was ‘too draconian’ (BBC news, 2007).

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health called for the Mental Health Act to be revised ‘to ensure stronger protection of people’s autonomy, and greater scrutiny and protection where the views of individuals with mental capacity to make healthcare decisions may be overridden to enforce treatment against their will’ (Mental Health Taskforce, 2016).

Reducing detention rates
Current detention rates under the Mental Health Act are too high. The latest published figures show the number of detentions under the Act are rising annually, increasing by 9% to 63 622 in 2015–2016, compared to 58 399 detentions in 2014–2015 (NHS Digital, 2016). Over the last 10 years they have increased by almost 50%. Of those detentions, a disproportionate number are of people from black and minority ethnic populations — four times as many black people as white people are detained. It is unclear why there are disproportionate detention rates between different communities, but this must be identified to ensure equal access to earlier intervention and crisis care services.

While reviewing the Act will use changes in legislation to help reduce the rates of detention, the difficulty will come in figuring out how the delivery of care must be changed so that detention can be avoided in the first place (Wessely, 2017). Additional focus is needed on the provision of earlier support. By identifying vulnerable people and addressing their mental health needs early, they can receive the support and care they need before detention becomes an unavoidable necessity.

For those that are detained, there needs to be a review of the areas constituting a ‘place of safety’. Police custody is not an appropriate area of safety. Around half the deaths that take place in or following police custody involve detainees with some form of mental health problem (Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), 2017). Although police custody is only used as a last resort, it can exacerbate a person’s mental state, and has the effect of criminalising people who are in need of medical attention (IPCC, 2017).

Undertaking the review
The review will be carried out by Sir Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. He is the former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and current President of the Royal Society of Medicine. Wessely will produce an interim report in early 2018 and develop a final report containing detailed recommendations, by autumn 2018.

References

BBC News. Ministers lose Mental Health vote. [Online]. 2007. [Cited on 25 Oct 2017]. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6374547.stm

Department of Health. Thousands of new roles to be created in mental health workforce plan. London: The Stationery Office; 2017 Aug 30 [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2017/08/30/moving-forward-with-theprevention-of-mental-health-problems/

Health Education England. Stepping forward to 2020/21: The mental health workforce plan for England. Leeds: Health Education England; 2017 [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from https://www.hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/CCS0717505185-1_FYFV%20Mental%20health%20workforce%20plan%20for%20England_v5%283%29.pdf

Independent Police Complaints Commission. Mental health and police custody [Internet]. Sale: IPCC; 2017 [cited 2017 Oct 19]. Available from https://www.ipcc.gov.uk/page/mental-health-police-custody

May T. Theresa May’s Conservative conference speech, full text [Internet]. London: The Spectator; 2017 Oct 4 [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/10/theresa-mays-conservativeconference-speech-full-text/

Mental Health Taskforce. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. Leeds: NHS England; 2016

NHS Digital. Inpatients formally detained in hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983, and patients subject to supervised community treatment. Uses of the Mental Health Act: Annual Statistics, 2015/16. London: Health and Social Care Information Centre; 2016

Royal College of Nursing. RCN responds to Mental Health Workforce Plan. London: RCN; 2017 [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from https://tinyurl.com/yavm3ulq

Wessely S. The Prime Minister Has Asked Me To Lead A Review Of The Mental Health Inequality In Britain – Here’s Why. London: The Huffington Post; 2017 Oct 6 [cited 2017 Oct 19]. Available from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/professor-sir-simonwessely/mental-health-act_b_18192476.html

Taken from British Journal of Healthcare Management, published November 2017.

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