Mental Health Act reform: the story so far

The arrival of the spring solstice on 21 March 2024 also saw the publication of the Government’s long-awaited response to the Joint Committee’s report on the draft Mental Health Bill.

Readers will recall the Government published its draft Mental Health Bill almost two years ago on 27 June 2022, which contained proposals to implement recommendations from Sir Simon Wessely’s 2018 (yes 2018!) Independent Review into Modernising the Mental Health Act (MHA).

The Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill was appointed in July 2022 to scrutinise and report on the draft Bill, and their report followed on 18th January 2023. You can read our previous collection of blogs on the draft Mental Health Bill here.

The Joint Committee’s report made 55 recommendations, but where does the Government stand on the Joint Committee’s recommendations?

Short version

Baroness Buscombe, the former chair of the Joint Committee, responded on the day of publication and said:

“It is welcome that the Government has published its delayed response to recommendations made by our Joint Committee to strengthen legislation on long overdue mental health reform.

“We urged the Government to act swiftly to bring the draft Mental Health Bill before Parliament and to accept our call for stronger measures in some areas to bring about the changes needed. That was 14 months ago. We have since witnessed the absence of the Bill from the King’s Speech, compounding disappointment for those whose lives are bound up in some form with the Mental Health Act.

“I note the Minister’s intention to bring forward a Bill when Parliamentary time allows, however she cannot but be aware that the clock is ticking.”

The slightly longer version

We’ve cantered through the 45-page response and highlight just some of the key areas.

The Government rejected the following key recommendations:

The Government accepted the following recommendations:

Looking ahead

Separately, the Department of Health and Social Care commissioned an independent rapid review to explore how the Government can improve the way data and evidence is used to identify risks to patient safety in mental health inpatient settings. That independent report was published in June 2023 and the Government’s response has now been published.

In addition, the Health Services Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) has launched a national investigation into mental health inpatient settings as one of its first priorities. The investigation will identify risks to the safety of patients, and HSSIB will seek to address those risks by making recommendations to facilitate the improvement of systems and practices in the provision of mental health care in England. The aims of the investigation include learning from inpatient mental health deaths to improve patient safety.

One of the early recommendations from the Joint Committee is a recommendation that there should be an ongoing process of mental health legislation reform, moving towards a more “fused” and “rights-based” approach. The Government has confirmed that, in addition to legislative reform and updating the code of practice, it plans to review implementation of the reforms within the bill and will commission independent evaluation of the reforms.

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