Two consultations launched on use of force in mental health units

The Department of Health and Social Care has published two consultations seeking views on draft guidance in respect of the use of force in mental health units. The consultations both close at midday on 17 August 2021.

The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act became law back in November 2018 so the guidance is a tad late! The aim of the Act (also known as ‘Seni’s law’) and statutory guidance is to prevent the inappropriate use of force and ensure accountability and transparency about the use of force in mental health units.

Consultation one

The first consultation calls for views on the draft statutory guidance for NHS organisations and private hospitals (providing NHS-funded care) in England and Wales providing care and treatment to patients with a mental disorder. The guidance provides information about how providers should meet the legal obligations placed on them by the Act, in addition to best practice advice. 

Key points to note:

  • It is statutory guidance so staff must “have regard to it” so departures from it could give rise to legal challenge.
  • It applies to all patients whether detained or informal, adults or children.
  • There are clear definitions of what is and what is not a mental health unit.
  • The need for a “responsible person” does not require a new person but it must be an Executive Director or equivalent.
  • A policy, signed off by the Board, on the use of force is required. The guidance sets out a minimum of 16 points to be included.  Before publishing, consultation must take place with current and former patients, amongst others.
  • In terms of information to be provided to patients, again the guidance sets out a minimum of 16 points to cover in that.  Again consultation is required before publishing.
  • There is a lot of information on training, covering over eight pages of the guidance.
  • In terms of recording the use of force, section 6 gives guidance on negligible use of force (which does not need to be recorded but which should only relate to a very small set of circumstances).
  • Section 9 contains a reminder of guidance on investigations of deaths / serious incidents and a reminder of the statutory Duty of Candour.

This statutory guidance is not intended to override other guidance which currently applies to mental health units but sits alongside it.

You can read the draft statutory guidance here and and you can respond online to the consultation here.

Consultation two

The second consultation calls for views on the Department’s written guidance to help people understand the law about using force in mental health units. This easy read guide explains what ‘using force’ means and what is meant by a mental health unit.  You can read the guidance here and you can respond to the online questionnaire here.

The Department is keen to hear from all stakeholders, especially from those who have lived experience of mental ill health or have been subject to the use of force in a mental health unit.

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