The Mental Health Act Consultation


Do you have experience of the Mental Health Act? Take part in the government's consultation to help shape how it will be used in the future. Below we set out what the consultation is, our top tips on how to answer the questions within it, and what areas we're looking forward to seeing change. 

What is the Mental Health Act White Paper?

Rethink Mental Illness has been campaigning for the reform of the Mental Health Act for a number of years, so we are delighted that the government has published a White Paper setting out proposals for reform of the Act.

A White Paper is a document which sets out the changes that the government would like to make, in this case to the law and to mental health practice. The government has also asked questions about some of those changes, and you can respond to those questions in the online consultation. The consultation closes on April 21 2021 so you have until then to respond.

Rethink Mental Illness is running a series of online focus groups with people are currently detained under the Mental Health Act or who have previously been detained. These events will be used to ensure that reform is informed by lived experience as far as possible. But you can also respond directly to the consultation here as an individual, so we wanted to provide some advice on how to do this. Keep reading for more information and to find out what Rethink Mental Illness will be saying in our response.

Who can respond?

The consultation is open to all individuals and organisations. We strongly encourage people with experience of the Mental Health Act, their families and carers, and any professionals with an interest, to respond to the government’s consultation.

It is a great opportunity to shape the final bill that will be bought forward to parliament and turned into law. 

Rethink Mental Illness has a number of priorities for reform of the MHA, which are discussed in greater detail below. But we are aware that the experiences and views of people with experience of the Mental Health Act are diverse. Whatever your perspective on the White Paper, the government would like to hear it and is required to take it into account.

How can I respond?

Responding to a consultation may seem daunting at first. It is comprised of 9 different sections and 36 questions - however do not let this put you off! It’s important that anyone with lived experience of the Act makes their views heard. That’s why we have put together the following practical tips below to make it as easy as possible.

Practical tips on responding to the consultation: 

1. You don’t need to read everything – we recommend skimming through the contents as there is a lot to digest and not everything will be relevant to everyone.

2. You don’t have to answer every question – we recommend focusing on the questions relevant to your views or experience.

3. Check out the Easy Read version – you may find this helpful for making the questions more accessible.

4. Don’t share your personal details  – you shouldn’t share identifying or personal information in your response.

5. Do some background reading – you may find it useful to familiarise yourself with the main findings and recommendations of the Independent Review of the MHA, which Rethink Mental Illness supported. You can also read what we will be saying below.

6. Be clear and succinct – the clearer you can convey your message the better chance it has of being taken into account.

7. Make some notes – it may help you to make some notes of the main points you want to make to each question in relation to your own views and experience before submitting your typed response on the webpage.

8. Save your response – in case you want to refer back to your response in the future it’s a good idea to keep a saved version as a Word document.

Want to respond as a Rethink Mental Illness group?

Get in touch with the campaigns team at for more info about how groups can do this and what support we might be able to offer.

What will Rethink Mental Illness be saying?

In case it’s helpful when thinking about your own response, we have briefly outlined below how we will be responding to various questions.

We will be primarily focusing on questions which deal with enhancing the involvement of people detained under the Mental Health Act in their own care, improving the choices they can make, and preventing people from detained under the Mental Health Act in the first place.

As an organisation which focuses primarily on adults severely affected by mental illness, we will not be responding to questions about children and young people and their needs under the MHA, or people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

Enhancing involvement in care

Since our landmark reports, A Mental Health Act Fit for Tomorrow and No Voice, No Choice; Making the Mental Health Act Person-Centred, Rethink Mental Illness has been campaigning for and working towards a Mental Health Act which delivers a holistic and person-centred model of care and treatment for people detained under it.

Too often, people experience detention under the Mental Health Act as a horrific necessity, one which may have helped to save their lives but that is far more traumatic and disempowering than it should be. Our aims since conducting this engagement have therefore focused on improving the ways in which the legal framework provided by the MHA protects and respects the people who rely on it.

As a result, we have provided a brief outline of the aspects of the White Paper most related to enhancing choice and involvement, in order to make responding to the White Paper a more accessible process for our campaigners and supporters.


The White Paper proposes four Principles which will set out core expectations for the experience of a person detained under the MHA, and be written onto the legislation itself as well as the Code of Practice. The principles are supported by other recommendations throughout the White Paper, so they won’t be purely symbolic. The government is asking people where the principles should be used, apart from in the law itself and the Code of Practice.

Detention criteria

The government would like to make changes to the reasons for which someone can be detained, in order to reduce the number of people being detained. We are supportive of this ambition, as long as there’s appropriate provision of community services to reduce the number of people experiencing a mental health crisis in the first place. The NHS Long-Term Plan is intended to provide those services, but we want to make sure that it does so.

Choice and involvement

The White Paper places a great deal of emphasis on improving the legal mechanisms for wishes and decisions to be made in advance, in line with the recommendations from the Independent Review and our No Voice, No Choice report. These recommendations hinge on an “Advance Choice Document”, and how best that can be implemented. The government is looking for feedback on what should be considered as a part of that document, as well as how binding choices are made and what they can refuse.

Carers and family involvement

The government are seeking to change the outdated Nearest Relative mechanism into a Nominated Person mechanism, by which carers and family members can be formally involved in the care and treatment of their loved one. They’re looking for feedback on the powers they’re proposing to provide the Nominated Person.


The White Paper rightly recognises the vital role that Independent Mental Health Advocates play in supporting people to be involved in their own care, and helping them to exercise their rights. The consultation asks about some additional powers which could be given to advocates to help them to carry out their functions more effectively. The potential expansion of advocacy services is subject to funding from central government, so if you would like to see the expansion of advocacy services to informal patients, and the provision of ‘opt-out’ advocacy, we would recommend responding to the consultation and saying so.

Leaving hospital and challenging detention

There are a number of consultation questions about proposals which would change the number of opportunities people have to challenge their detention, or change the things that the Mental Health Tribunal can take into account, or instruct services to provide. The proposals are aiming to improve the access that people have to routes out of hospital, because that will ensure they’re discharged as soon as possible.

If you have responded to the consultation and would like to become involved in our ongoing campaign to reform the Mental Health Act, you can sign up to become a campaigner here.

If you have a question about responding to the White Paper consultation, contact and we will do our best to get back to you

We care about your privacy
This website uses cookies to give you the best experience.
Read our updated privacy policy and cookies policy