The statement made by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 27 June 2022.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our plans to bring the Mental Health Act 1983 into the 21st century. Today, just as we pledged in the Queen’s Speech, we have published a draft Mental Health Bill to modernise legislation that was passed by the House almost 40 years ago and make sure that it is fit for the future.
Last year, we invested £500 million to support those with mental health needs who were most affected by the pandemic and, as we set out in the NHS long-term plan, we are investing record amounts into expanding and transforming mental health services. That will reach an extra £2.3 billion each year by 2023-24. Later this year, we will also publish a new 10-year mental health plan followed by a 10-year suicide prevention plan, which, as I set out in a speech on Friday, will place a determined focus on this major source of grief and heartbreak so that fewer people will one day get the news that turns their lives upside down. But we cannot make the critical reforms that we need and that are so essential to the country’s mental health system without making sure that the law that underpins our country’s mental health system is up to date, too.
Since the 1983 Act, our understanding of and attitude towards mental health has transformed beyond recognition, and it is right that we act now to bring the Act up to date. The Mental Health Act was created so that people who have severe mental illnesses and present a risk to themselves or others can be safely detained and treated for their own protection and that of those around them, but there are a number of alarming issues with how the Act is currently used. Too many people are being detained. They are also being detained for too long, and there are inequalities among those who are detained. The previous Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), asked Professor Sir Simon Wessely to lead a review into the Act. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her tireless commitment to this most important of issues and to Sir Simon for his illuminating report, which made a powerful case for reform and was rightly welcomed on both sides of the House. It made for uncomfortable but essential reading, vividly showing how currently the Act fails patients and their loved ones and deprives people of autonomy and control over their care.
The draft legislation that we have published today builds on Sir Simon’s recommendations as well as those in our White Paper, which was published in partnership with the Ministry of Justice last year. Just like Sir Simon’s report, the White Paper was welcomed by both sides of the House. It was also welcomed by leading charities including Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink, countless mental health professionals and, critically, the people who use mental health services and their loved ones. Today, we are showing how we will put the vision into action. The Bill is a once-in-a-generation reform, and I would like to set out briefly to the House the important themes that sit behind it.
First, the Bill rebalances the criteria for detention so that it will take place only as a last resort when all other options have been explored and considered. Under the new criteria, people will be detained only when they pose a significant risk of harm to themselves and others, and patients should be detained only if they will benefit from the treatment that is made possible by their detention.
Secondly, the Bill shows how we will give patients more control over their care and treatment. It will ensure that, in most cases, clinicians can administer compulsory treatment only if there is a strong reason to do so. In future, all patients formally detained under the Act will have a statutory right to a care and treatment plan, drawn up between the patient and their clinician, and personalised based on the patient’s needs. It will give them a clear road map to their discharge from hospital.
There are some cases when patients are not able to make decisions about their own care or feel that they could benefit from greater support. Currently, patients are not always able to choose who can represent them, as their nearest relative automatically qualifies to act on their behalf. The Bill will change that, allowing patients to choose a nominated person who they believe is best placed to look after their interests. The Bill will also increase the powers of that nominated person, so that they can be consulted about the patient’s future care.
Thirdly, the Bill will tackle the disparities in how the 1983 Act is used. Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Act than white people, and 10 times more likely to be placed on a community treatment order. The Bill provides for greater scrutiny of decision making, including through greater use of second opinions on important decisions, and through expanded access to independent tribunals; that will help us to address the disparities in the use of the Act.
Fourthly, the Bill will enhance support for patients with severe mental health needs who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Under the 1983 Act, too often, people in prison experience delays in getting treatment in hospital. Courts are sometimes forced to divert defendants who require care and treatment, some of whom have not been convicted, to prison as a so-called place of safety. The Bill will make crucial improvements so that vulnerable offenders and those awaiting trial can access the treatment that they need. It will tackle delays and speed up access to specialist care by introducing a new statutory 28-day time limit for transfers from prison to hospital, and it will end the use of prison as a so-called place of safety, so that patients can get the care that they need in the appropriate hospital setting.
The Bill will also amend the Bail Act 1976 so that courts are no longer forced to deny a defendant bail if the judge’s sole concern about granting bail has to do with the defendant’s mental health. The Bill will allow the judge to send them to hospital instead, so that they can be in the best environment for their mental health and can receive any treatment that they need.
Finally, the Bill will improve the way that people with a learning disability and autistic people are treated under the 1983 Act. One of my priorities in my role is personalised care. The current blanket approach cannot be allowed to continue; it means that too many autistic people and people with a learning disability are admitted into institutional settings when they would be better served by being in the community. The Bill will change this. It limits the scope for detaining people with learning disabilities and autistic people for treatment unless they have a mental illness that justifies a longer stay or they are admitted through the criminal justice system. It also gives commissioners of local authorities and integrated care boards new duties to make sure that the right community support is available instead.
I look forward to working with hon. Members in all parts of the House as we take these plans forward. This momentous Bill deals with one of the most serious and sombre responsibilities of any Government: their responsibility for the power to deprive people of their liberty. Mental ill health can impact any of us at any time. It is essential that we all have confidence that the system will treat us and our loved ones with dignity and compassion. That is what the Bill will deliver. I commend the statement to the House.