Publication of draft Mental Health Bill outlines plans to improve services, but investment is needed in infrastructure to support proposals, say critics
The Government has published its long-awaited draft Mental Health Bill, committing more than £150m to modernising psychiatric services across the country.
The three-year investment plan will bolster NHS mental health services, better support people in crisis outside of A&E, and enhance patient safety in mental health units.
The interventions were all recommendations in Professor Sir Simon Wessely’s independent review of the Mental Health Act, which is currently being updated.
Our reforms to the outdated Mental Health Act are an important milestone in better supporting those with serious mental health issues and giving people greater control over their treatment
The draft Mental Health Bill, unveiled earlier this week, aims to ensure greater choice and autonomy for patients in a mental health crisis as well as tackling the racial disparities in mental health services.
It will also better meet the needs of people with a learning disability and autistic people and ensure appropriate care for people with serious mental illness within the criminal justice system.
An important milestone
Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Our reforms to the outdated Mental Health Act are another important milestone in better supporting those with serious mental health issues and giving people greater control over their treatment, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds who are disproportionately detained under the Act.
“Funding will also support local communities to invest in alternatives to hospital admission for people experiencing a mental health crisis, such as ‘crisis houses’ run by the voluntary sector which will ensure people can access the treatment they need within their community.
“Increasing local capacity will reduce avoidable hospital admissions and inappropriate out-of-area hospital placements. This will result in improved patient outcomes as people in crisis will be able to receive specialised treatment in appropriate environments, reducing the risk of readmission to hospital.”
But any improvement in services will need to be underpinned by investment in the mental health estate.
NHS mental health director, Claire Murdoch, said: “This is a significant and welcome milestone towards the much-needed reform of the Mental Health Act and I look forward to working with the Government on developing a plan for implementing these changes.
“The NHS Long Term Plan is expanding and improving mental health services across the country – from specialised mental health ambulances, opening new buildings, and refurbishing older ones – and this much-needed funding will modernise facilities and, most importantly, ensure mental health patients get access to the best and suitable care when they need it.”
The bill, which is now subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a parliamentary select committee, will speed up access to treatment, enshrine important protections for vulnerable people, and ensure prisons are not used as an alternative to hospital treatment.
This much-needed funding will modernise facilities and, most importantly, ensure mental health patients get access to the best and suitable care when they need it
The reforms will also take steps to ensure parity between mental health and physical health services, with the Government already investing over £400m to eradicate dormitory-style accommodation in mental health facilities.
More widely, the Government is expanding and transforming mental health services to meet rising demand by investing an additional £2.3billion a year to expand and transform services in England, which will help two million more people to access mental health services by 2023/24.
However, while widely welcomed, the bill has led to concern over staffing shortages, which critics fear will scupper delivery of any improvements in services.
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents heathcare workers, said: “NHS leaders – from mental health trusts and beyond – welcome the publication of the draft bill on Mental Health Act reform. It’s been a long time coming and is an important opportunity to implement reforms that will give service users greater autonomy and improve the quality of their treatment and care.
“But, while additional funding to support its implementation is useful, mental health services are significantly understaffed.”
And she said mental health services were in ‘desperate need’ of investment to ‘shore up outdated buildings and infrastructures’.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity, Mind, called for additional scrutiny on several key areas of the bill as it continues through the parliamentary process.
It’s been a long time coming and is an important opportunity to implement reforms that will give service users greater autonomy and improve the quality of their treatment and care
These include a review of the use of Community Treatment Orders, which are disproportionately applied to black people and do not reduce readmissions; and a strengthening in the reforms for young people in crisis.
He said: “Over the next few days we’ll continue to examine the draft bill and will look to work closely with UK Government and the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny Committee to address our concerns.
“It is vital we make sure our new Mental Health Act works to protect and support people’s health now, and for the generations to come.
“And, finally, alongside this reformed legislation must come the necessary resources and funding needed to deliver this transformation, otherwise even the most-well-thought-out pieces of legislation will not achieve the results we need to see.”