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Law Society recommends tougher safeguarding for patients detained under the Mental Health Act

Patients detained under the Mental Health Act need more protection, according to Law Society Vice President Christina Blacklaws who recently spoke in response to the government’s Independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983.

In evidence to the independent review panel, Ms Blacklaws called for legal reform to improve the protections offered by the Act, and to impose tougher safeguards to protect vulnerable patients reliant upon an “inadequate” mental health service.

The Law Society set out a number of key observations in respect of areas in need of reform. These included:

Inadequate rights for patients to challenge their detention in the Mental Health Tribunal
It was suggested that the current initial 6 month time period for detention is “unduly long”. This causes distress to patients and is not in line with principles of the MHA Code of Practice, which provide that the least restrictive measure must be taken. The Law Society instead suggested that the minimum period at which detention can be challenged should be reduced to 3 months to reflect modern day practice.

Unjustifiable imposition of medical treatment on patients without their consent in the first three months of detention
The Law Society considers that the provision of treatment without patient consent within the first three months of detention shows “the absence of any meaningful safeguards against arbitrariness and disregard for patients’ wishes regarding their treatment”. This principle was said to be unacceptable and recommendations were given that this be abolished in its entirety.

A complete lack of safeguards for children in mental health detention
A proposal was made that mental health legislation should include specific safeguards for under 18s receiving in-patient psychiatric care informally. Ms Blacklaws did not go into detail about the suggested safeguards but instead explained that the starting point would be to consult with children, parents and others who work with young people to establish appropriate protections for these patients.

Inordinate delay in the treatment of prisoners with mental health problems
At present, when a prisoner is transferred from prison to hospital a warrant of transfer from the MOJ is required. In order to avoid the “huge delays” caused by this procedure, which can impact on the timing of a prisoner’s transfer, care and treatment and can sometimes result in the loss of an allocated bed, the Law Society recommend that this power is delegated to the prison governor once the medical recommendation is in place and there is a bed at the receiving hospital.

Summarising her position, Christina Blacklaws concluded that “attitudes and approaches to mental health have moved on since the Act was written, and the legislation should reflect that.”

The full Law Society Response is available by clicking here.

For advice and guidance on issues affecting mental health Trusts please contact a member of the Healthcare team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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