In 2010, the NHS set the goal of “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health services.

There has been little obvious progress towards this goal. In fact, in June of this year, the BMA revealed a 40% rise in mental health patients being sent out of their local area to get the care they needed, with often devastating consequences for patients and their families.

During the lead up to the general election this summer, Theresa May vowed to change the Act, if the Conservatives were successfully re-elected on 8 June.

Last week, the Government and the Department of Health have announced the appointment of Sir Simon Wessely (a former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists) as chair of an independent review of the Act, tasked to unpick key concerns regarding the working of the current mental health legislation, such as:

  • the rising numbers of people detained under the Act;
  • the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnicities being detained;
  • concerns around processes and legislation which are outdated

Campaigners argue that the legislation as it stands is discriminatory and stigmatising, with far too much emphasis on risk, at the expense of the rights of the individual.

The Care Quality Commission have expressed concerns about rising numbers of detained patients, suggesting that one reason for this might be the lack of community alternatives to inpatient care.

This review will work with service users, carers, professionals and other organisations to try and achieve a broad consensus of the priorities for government to take forward. The outcome will be a series of recommendations within an interim report in the spring of 2018 and a final report in a year’s time.

This is an ambitious timetable, but a sensible approach.

It is far from clear that the Act bears responsibility for all the problems identified. Solutions may lie in updated legislation. Equally, funding, allocation of resources, practice or attitude may hold the key to real change. That a medical professional, rather than a lawyer is heading up the review may open the door to a more holistic exploration of the factors responsible for these important issues. In turn, this may lead to an acknowledgment that the solutions may be complex and multi-faceted, but also a commitment to effect real and lasting change.

For more information

Contact Sheree Green.

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