Mental Health Act Review – Our Response

On 4 October 2017, Theresa May announced an independent review into the Mental Health Act. 

In response, Vanessa Pinfold, Research Director and Co-Founder of the McPin Foundation, says:

“We welcome the review of the outdated Mental Health Act (MHA). This legislation, as it stands, creates a key barrier for parity of esteem between the treatment of physical health and mental health problems and impedes on our compliance with Human Rights Act. Involuntary detention is a powerful tool, distorting therapeutic relationships and often friend and family ones too. It has a huge impact on the lives of people detained and Government figures estimate that a shocking 180 people per day are detained under the MHA.

As a research charity, we have been considering how research might be used within this review. In our view, it is absolutely essential that lived experience and survivor knowledge is valued as part of the evidence base that is used to inform research and decisions made by policy makers and commissioners. Those directly affected by the MHA are the ones we should be the most keen to hear from during the consultation phase of the review. People for whom the MHA has the biggest impact on are often the hardest to reach – people in medium secure units, people on community treatment orders, people detained under section on inpatient wards – need opportunities to use their experiences to shape legislation of the future. Furthermore, they are not sitting around ready to attend a meeting or fill out a survey. They often are more socially excluded with reduced access to digital technology. The review group charged with this task has a big challenge if they want a truly fair, open process and adequate resources must be assigned for this massive undertaking.

The McPin Foundation is a member of the Mental Health Act Alliance (MHAA), who have been pushing for an independent review, and they recently produced research, outlining an agenda for reform. But this research was criticised for not reaching a diverse enough audience. For example, only 8% of the 61% of respondents who supplied demographic details came from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. A worrying feat given that you are 4 times more likely to be detained under the Act if you are a black person compared to a white person.

It is also important that we look carefully into how new research will be commissioned and undertaken and how existing evidence will be used. When I worked on the 2007 Mental Health Act amendment, policy processes and research were run in parallel; with those involved hoping their conclusions would complement one another. New research commissioned to support the independent review should be commissioned in a timely fashion so the results can feed into the decision-making process, not the other way around.

It’s been 35 years since new legislation was introduced – much has changed in society since then and we need a new approach to helping people in crisis. There are international models to draw upon and many organisations, including those in the Mental Health Act Alliance, waiting to get involved. Again, let’s not forget, or undervalue, the expertise from those with direct experience of the MHA. These people and their families are seldom heard, make them the priority of the process so we can provide legislation fit for purpose.”