Seni's Law - an important step forward
A new law which aims to reduce the use of force in mental health units has been given initial approval by MPs. Rory Weal from our Campaigns and Policy team outlines why this is an important step in protecting the rights of people severely affected by mental illness.
In 2010 a 23 year old man called Olaseni Lewis, a young graduate living with his parents, suffered his first ever episode of psychosis. After being taken to the Bethlem Royal mental health hospital in Croydon, he became distressed and the staff – lacking the training to deal with him – called the police. Eleven police officers took Seni into a seclusion room and held him face down on the floor. Seni died four days later.
It took until this year for the inquest on his death to conclude. Sadly, Seni’s experience is not an isolated incident – between 2000 and 2014, 46 mental health patients died following restraint.
In response to this, Labour MP Steve Reed tabled the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, known as "Seni's Law", which passed its second reading in Parliament on Friday. We have been involved in the Bill’s development, and produced a joint briefing with Agenda which can be read here. The Bill aims for greater transparency and accountability around the use of restraint in mental health settings - including publishing data on how and when physical force is used, and ensuring that any non-natural death in a mental health unit triggers an independent inquiry. "If this law had been in place [then], Seni would probably be alive now," Ajibola Lewis, Mr Lewis' mother, said.
Action by campaigners helped convince MPs to vote for the principles of the new law and Rethink Mental Illness will stay involved as MPs and peers look at the legislation in more detail – and we will let you know when more pressure is needed to get this crucial reform passed.
'For me, restraint was often a confusing experience that left me feeling extremely powerless. As a young woman under the Mental Health Act, forced treatment made a vulnerable and traumatic period in my life so much more distressing.' - Katie.
But this bill also raises wider issues. There are also important links between the way that force is used in mental health units and the pressing need to reform the outdated Mental Health Act, which governs how people who are considered a risk to themselves or others can be detained and treated involuntarily.
The Mental Health Act is the only area of healthcare which starts from the principle that the individual is not in control of their care. People sectioned under the Act have little choice over what happens to them. Our supporters tell us that their dignity and rights are compromised unnecessarily and routinely. With such flaws in the legislation that is intended to protect the most vulnerable, what happened to Seni could well happen again.
‘Seni’s Law’ is a vital step forward to reducing the use of force and improving how it is regulated and overseen: the Shadow Health Minister, Justin Madders, was right to describe it as “a step towards a model of care, rather than one of containment”. But we know that further steps are also needed.
Now that the Government has commissioned an independent review of the Mental Health Act, we will champion this principle as the basis for future reform so that people with severe mental illness are treated in safety and with dignity.
If you would like to help us shape a mental health act that is fit for tomorrow, why not sign up to become a campaigner today and get regular updates from our campaigns and policy team.