The Future of the Mental Health Act
Mental Health Act Reform
In her speech following the recent General Election, the Queen outlined how the Government will continue to work to modernise and reform the Mental Health Act. The key objective appears to be to ensure that patients get the support they need, with a much greater say in their care.
Consultation regarding reform of the Mental Health Act had already taken place prior to the speech. Areas for reform have included that of the Nearest Relative role. One criticism of the current law is that the identity of the Nearest Relative is determined by the Act which lists, in order of preference, who is Nearest Relative. This may mean that someone a patient does not want to take up the role, or someone they have no contact with is allocated the role. One suggestion for reform is that the patient should retain the right to choose who their Nearest Relative is.
Further reform may concern consent to treatment. During the first 3 months of detention under the Mental Health Act, a patient may be prescribed and forced to take medication (regardless of their consent or capacity). After this 3-month period, an independent Second Opinion Appointed Doctor (SOAD) will be asked to see the patient and decide whether treatment should continue if the patient continues to refuse or lack capacity to consent. One reform that has been suggested is that SOAD should see the patient from the outset if appropriate. Others have suggested that a patient should be able to refuse treatment for their mental disorder if they have capacity to do so and treatment should only ever be enforced where a patient lacks capacity.
At present it is not clear which suggested reforms will be actioned. However, The Queen’s Speech promises a White Paper on mental health reforms early 2020 so we can be hopeful of an update soon.