A New Mental Health Bill

It is being heavily trailed in the media that the Queen’s Speech this year, will contain a Mental Health Act (Reform) Bill – the beginning of the process of amending the Mental Health Act 1983, in its first significant upgrade since 2007, but trailed as a first major upgrade in forty years, since it was first enacted.  In fact, much of the 1983 Act is just the 1959 re-numbered, so it’s more like 63yrs old, but I disgress.

We do not yet have sight of the draft Bill but for those who want a quick catch up ahead of seeing what happens, the recent history is —

  • In 2017, Professor Sir Simon Wessely began chairing a review of the Mental Health Act which reported in late 2018.
  • In 2020, the Government produced a White Paper, outlining various ideas for discussion and public consultation.
  • In 2021, the Government produced its response to the public consultation on the White Paper.
  • 2022 – we are likely to see an actual Bill placed before Parliament for its consideration.

The links above are to the posts I wrote at the time on those milestones and they includes summaries of implications for policing and mental health, as well as links to the actual documents.

We don’t know how much of the public reaction to the Government’s White Paper will be taken in to account, because we do know the Government’s response included suggestions which were not put forward by Sir Simon.  For example, discussion occurred during the MHA review about powers of detention in Emergency Departments, because it has always been a difficult and complex set of considerations as to how health professionals in ED should response when there are serious concerns for a patient who may leave and where it is not always clear on their legal powers and responsibilities to prevent this.  One way of dealing with that, is to just reform the MHA to make it clear.

Sir Simon did not recommend, however, any proposed extension of section 5 MHA to Emergency Departments but this is in the Government Response to the White Paper.  I don’t know any ED nurses or doctors who want a legal power to go physically hands-on with someone choosing to leave; there are problems in assuming that hospital security would just do that on their behalf and I foresee a situation where the 999 call goes in to the police to suggest officers must come and do the physicall coercion the hospital thinks is required.  This is just one of several reasons I would be concerned about this proposal, if I were still involved in discussion about this from the policing side and it’s just one example of the detail that will need crawling over, once the Bill is published.

I’ll be especially interested in the detail around the proposed removal of police stations as a Place of Safety – there were interesting perspectives on how that could be achieved during the MHA review discussions, not all of them welcome from a policing point of view.


The bigger question for me, though is about the over-arching intention of the reforms (to reduce the number of people detained under the Act):  so what happens instead?  In particular, there is emphasis – quite rightly – on reducing detention of those of us living with learning disabilities and autistic spectrum conditions, as well as reducing racial disparities in how the Act operates.  Fine – who could disagree? … but what happens instead?!

As Jeremy Laurence once wrote (Madness, 2003) we really don’t know whether community care works because we’ve never tried it!  — IE, we’ve never really funded and resourced it properly.  If that remains the case with these reforms, we’ll be seeing a whole host of unintended, but entirely predictable consequences.

Should be an interesting year ahead – will update with another post once the Bill is published.

Winner of the President’s Medal, the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award


All opinions expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation. (c) Michael Brown OBE, 2022

I try to keep this blog up to date, but inevitably over time, amendments to the law as well as court rulings and other findings from inquests and complaints processes mean it is difficult to ensure all the articles and pages remain current.  Please ensure you check all legal issues in particular and take appropriate professional advice where necessary.

Government legislation website – www.legislation.gov.uk