Coronavirus Bill: changes to the Mental Health Act

The Coronavirus Bill 2019-21 has had its first reading, with its second reading on 23 March.

So, what changes can be expected for those working with the Mental Health Act?

This is addressed in Part 9 and Schedule 7 (in relation to England) of the Bill. We summarise below the proposed modifications to the MHA.

Schedule 7

Part 1: All forms are deemed to be amended to be consistent with Part 2 of the Schedule.

Applications

Part 2: Applications made by an Approved Mental Health Professional for detention under sections 2 or 3 MHA shall be founded on the recommendation of a single medical practitioner if the professional considers that two recommendations would be impractical or would involve undesirable delay.

However, a single recommendation must still comply with the requirements of sections 2(3) or 3(3). It must include a statement of the opinion as to why a single recommendation is being used.

Do note that section 4 is not a provision to which a single recommendation applies.

The holding powers under section 5(2) are amended so that any registered medical practitioner or approved clinician may furnish a report if it appears to them that it is impractical or would involve undesirable delay for the practitioner/clinician in charge of treatment to furnish the report.

Section 5(2) is extended from 72 hours to 120 hours to enable a full assessment to be completed.

Section 5(4) is extended from 6 hours to 12 hours to enable a full assessment to be completed.

Forensic matters

Persons remanded in hospital under sections 35 and 36 MHA may now find themselves in hospital longer than 12 weeks whilst reports are awaited.

When considering court orders, if awaiting the evidence of two medical practitioners is impractical or would involve undesirable delay, as long as the court is satisfied on the evidence of a single practitioner, court orders can be made. Transfer directions will be amended in the same light.

The MHA is also amended to enable persons subject to court orders, to have up to 28 days to be conveyed to hospital instead of the normal 14 days.

Treatment

When considering treatment for patients subject to the MHA the following amendments are proposed:

  • Section 58(3)(b) removes the need to consult another, if it will cause delay or is impractical. This section applies to those unable to consent to their treatment.
  • Section 58(4) is amended to require the consultant under section 58(3)(b) to only consult one person, rather than two if it would cause undesirable delay or is impractical.

Place of safety

Section 135 and 136 is amended from 24 hours to 36 hours with regard to how long a patient may be detained in a place of safety. It is not known yet whether professionals will be able to extend by a further 12 hours if they continue to struggle, allowing the total time to increase to 48 hours or whether it will remain at 36 hours.

It is yet to be seen whether these will remain, as currently drafted or whether we will see further amendments.

The aim of the amendments are to alleviate the pressures on health and social care staff, who may well be required elsewhere in the NHS during this time.

We will continue you to provide updates as the Bill is debated. It is expected to become law at the end of March.

If you have any concerns of questions around the MHA, please do get in touch with Molly Sanghera or a member of the team.

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