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King’s speech: Government criticised for shelving Mental Health Act reform

King’s speech: Government criticised for shelving Mental Health Act reform
By Jess Hacker
7 November 2023

Mental health charity Mind and MPs have criticised the Government for missing the chance to reform the ‘outdated’ Mental Health Act after the King’s speech failed to mention its plans for the bill.

During today’s speech (7 November), King Charles confirmed legislation to create a smokefree generation and further restrictions to the sale of vapes and e-cigarettes.

However, the speech – which sets out the Government’s legislative intentions for the coming parliamentary year – did not include any mention of the Mental Health Bill, indicating reforms proposed in last year’s draft bill may be postponed.

Reforms to the Mental Health Act 1983 – the main piece of law setting out when one can be detained for treatment against their will – featured in both the Tory and Labour parties’ 2019 manifestos.

The Act was reviewed in 2018, and was followed by a white paper in 2021 and joint parliamentary committee report earlier this year.

But mental health charity Mind has said that the failure to mention it in today’s speech means it ‘will not be passed before the next general election’, which can be held no later than January 2025.

Chief executive, Dr Sarah Hughes, said the ‘long overdue reforms’ marked an opportunity to overhaul ‘deep racial injustices in the use of the Act, with Black people being four times more likely to be detained’.

She said: ‘That chance has now been missed, and the UK government has broken its promise to thousands of people, their loved ones and the nation as a whole to reform the Act.

‘This is further evidence of how little regard the current UK government has for mental health. More than 50,000 people were held under the Mental Health Act last year, so it is incomprehensible that legislation which would help people at their most unwell has been de-prioritised. There could not be a worse time to abandon this bill, especially given the recent string of exposés revealing unsafe mental health care across the country.’

Health and Social Care Committee chair and Conservative MP, Steve Brine, similarly criticised the bill’s ‘disappointing’ absence from the speech.

He said: ‘The draft Bill, among its planned reforms, would outlaw the inappropriate detention of people with learning disabilities and autism. Without change, too many people will continue to be held in secure units, often for years at a time. These reforms are long overdue.’

And The King’s Fund chief executive Richard Murray, said: ‘The notable absence of a new and reformed Mental Health Act from the King’s Speech is deeply disappointing. These reforms, such as changes to the criteria for detaining patients under the Act, have been carefully considered over many years, and it is worrying to see them deprioritised. Not bringing forward these reforms risks widening health inequalities.’

When asked for comment, the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:“We’re going further and faster to transform our country’s mental health services, with up to an additional £2.3 billion being invested annually by 2024 to expand services, so an extra two million people can get the support they need.

‘We are continuing to pilot models of Culturally Appropriate Advocacy, providing tailored support to hundreds of people from ethnic minorities to better understand their rights when they are detained under the Mental Health Act.“Anyone receiving treatment in an inpatient mental health facility deserves to receive safe, high-quality care and to be looked after with dignity and respect and we are committed to ensuring this happens.’

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