The campaign so far

In January 2021, the Government published the Mental Health Act White Paper which sets out their plans to reform the Act. This step has come as a result of many years of campaigning by Rethink Mental Illness and our friends across the mental health sector. It marks the beginning of a transition towards meaningful change in the care and treatment of people living with severe mental illness who are detained under the Act.

Prior to the White Paper and following our campaigning with those in the sector, in 2017, the former Prime Minister Theresa May announced an Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, which would look at how it's used and how it can be improved.

The Review heard from thousands of people detained under the Act, as well as their carers and loved ones. In December 2018, the Review published its final report, which included around 150 recommendations for change. It is this that the White Paper is based on and this marks a crucial milestone in our campaign, there is still a long way to go before we get the law changed.

As part of our campaign, in 2019, we called on the Government and MPs across parliament to accept and implement the Review’s recommendations by asking people to sign our petition. Thank you to everyone that signed it - almost 5,000 people. We delivered it to the Prime Minister in the summer of May 2019.

What’s next?

The White Paper has been a long time coming, and it’s cause for celebration. But we still have a long way to go before we get a Mental Health Act which we can all be proud of. We look forward to working with the government, people detained under the Act, their carers and loved ones, and our campaigners and supporters, to see it delivered in the near future.

Principles of the Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act currently features no principles. In 2019, the Review recommended adding principles, so overarching values are in place to guide the way the Act is applied to the care and treatment of people detained under it. The principles recommended by the Review were:

Choice and autonomy: people being supported to express what they want and to be heard; patients should understand their rights and their relationships should be respected.

Beneficial purpose: care and treatment should be delivered with a view to ending the need for coercion.

Treating patients as individuals: detention should respect the individual circumstances of the detained person, and consider their protected characteristics.

Least restriction: compulsory powers should be used in the least restrictive and least invasive way possible.

The Review’s key recommendations

  • Replacing  the ‘nearest relative’ role (a family member with particular rights and powers, who is chosen from an inflexible list) with a ‘nominated person’ chosen by the person detained.
  • Giving patients a legal say over their treatment – doctors will only be able to overrule their wishes in certain circumstances.
  • Better oversight of treatment decisions (via independent doctors and tribunals).
  • Extending a right to advocacy to informal inpatients (those who have not been detained under the Mental Health Act but could be threatened with detention).
  • More access to tribunals.
  • Making care planning statutory for people subject to the Mental Health Act.
  • Aiming to substantially reduce the use of Community Treatment Orders. The Review’s recommendations mark a milestone for everyone wishing to improve this important but outdated legislation.

The Reviews recommendations marked a milestone for everyone wishing to improve this important but outdated legislation. Now we have a White Paper, read about the key changes that we are most looking forward to seeing implemented in the reform of the Mental Health Act.

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