Mental health detention – UK Government assessment
In recent years, there have been new laws to improve rights protections for those detained under the Mental Health Act through the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act and the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act, although both Acts are yet to be implemented. The NHS Long Term Plan commits to additional investment in crisis and community care, which could prevent detentions or delayed discharges. However, evidence indicates ongoing increased rates of detention under the Mental Health Act, significant issues of disproportionality in both detention and restraint, and poor treatment and delayed discharges for some people with learning disabilities and/or autism. The pandemic has exacerbated the overall rates of poor mental health, and reduced important safeguards against mental health detention.
- The implementation of mental health policy reforms since 2015 has led to some progress in community and crisis care: for example, the number of children and young people, and new mothers, accessing community mental health services has shown a gradual rise since 2016.
- However, overall detentions under the Mental Health Act (MHA) continue to increase – there were almost 50,000 new detentions under the MHA in England in 2018-19, higher than in the two years before.
- Evidence shows that Black people are more than four times as likely to be detained under the MHA as White people.
- Despite UK Government commitments in 2018 and 2019, the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act have not been implemented.
- The coronavirus pandemic has increased the risk of mental health detention, due to reduced access to health services and support provision during a period of worsening mental health.
- Pandemic-related changes to mental health services and tribunals, as well as potential changes to the MHA, have reduced safeguards on detention. Deaths among people in mental health detention have doubled due to deaths related to coronavirus.
- Despite UK Government commitments to reduce the detention of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in inpatient settings, there were still at least 2,060 people in these settings in England at the end of May 2020, many of whom had been detained for prolonged periods and often far from home.
- The Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised the UK Government regarding the poor treatment of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in mental health detention in November 2019. – in June 2020 it stated that, due to the pandemic, ‘the situation is now a severe crisis’.
- Restraint in mental health detention overall remains high, particularly for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, and disproportionately affects people from Black and other ethnic minority groups and women and girls.
- The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 (‘Seni’s Law’), which includes measures intended to reduce the use of restraint and improve accountability in mental health settings, has not been introduced.
- Evidence suggests many people in mental health detention are unaware of their rights, and are not involved in their care planning.
- In June 2018, the Joint Committee on Human Rights found that many people who lack capacity to make decisions about their care and treatment are unlawfully deprived of their liberty.
- The implementation of a new process to improve protection for the rights of people who lack capacity has been delayed until April 2022 due to the pandemic.
Read more about the UK Government’s actions on mental health detention.