This week marks a milestone for people campaigning to improve the lives of people with mental illness. The recommendations put forward by the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act have the potential to directly benefit tens of thousands of people living with serious mental illness throughout England and Wales if they are enacted.
Today we have made a real step forward, but it is vital that we keep this momentum going.
The primary goal of the Act has always been to protect some of the most unwell people in society, enabling them to get support and treatment at a time when they most need it. In many cases, people are alive today because the care that they got while detained. But the Act is badly out of date.
Rethink Mental Illness has heard from countless people over the years about how the Act has failed to protect their rights and dignity, excluded them from decision making about their treatment, and failed to involve their families and carers in the right way. All of these issues were considered by the Review, and extensive recommendations have been made for change.
Encouragingly, the Government has accepted two of the recommendations immediately and said that they would be contained in a new mental health bill. The first is that patients should be able to make advance choices about their treatment. For example, if a patient knows that a certain kind of medication doesn’t agree with them, this should carry legal weight and only be overruled in tightly defined circumstances, with overrides of ECT refusal only possible in rare cases by a high court judge.
- See more: Mental Health Act changes could see 10,000 fewer individuals face compulsory detention
- See more: Independent review of the Mental Health Act: charities' responses
As well as this, the “nearest relative” (the mechanism by which a specific relative from a hierarchical list is given rights and responsibilities over you when you’re detained) will be replaced by a “nominated person”. The Nearest Relative system can too often result in a family member who the patient has a difficult relationship with, or has lost touch with, being given rights over their care. In the future, it will mean you will be able to choose who that person is. And where nominated persons have been chosen, a service user will be able to give them enhanced rights to be consulted on care planning.
Today we have made a real step forward, but it is vital that we keep this momentum going. Recommendations count for very little if they are not implemented, and we cannot let this once in a lifetime opportunity fall out of the public eye, for the sake of the 20,000 people subject to the Mental Health Act on any day.