Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Making mental health services more humane and efficient

An open letter to the media about mental health services is available to sign. It highlights the following:-

  1. lack of confidentiality in services eg. on mental health helplines 
  2. more information needed for patients eg. about psychiatric treatment 
  3. differences between psychiatry and the rest of medicine should not be minimised 
  4. patients' mental capacity, their will and preferences need to be taken more into account
  5. the dangerousness of people with mental health problems is exaggerated
Psychiatric practice should no longer be based on the notion that primary mental illness will be found to have a physical cause, but move on to a more personal, relational practice.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Risk and blame in mental health services

I've mentioned before (see previous post) that the over-preoccupation with risk in mental health services in the last 20 years has been counterproductive. This is relevant to the current review of the Mental Health Act (MHA) (see another previous post). The new MHA needs to reduce coercion in mental health services and risk is not always best handled by increasing coercion.

As I wrote in my book chapter, one of the reasons for the rundown of the traditional asylum was the mistreatment of patients in a number of institutional scandals. These traditional services needed to be opened up and patients moved more to the community. I've argued that the recent scandals of Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall should similarly lead to the prohibition of any further civil psychiatric detentions to secure facilities (see previous post), so that these people if they need inpatient treatment should be managed in open door wards. A secure environment is unsuitable for most people with learning disability or serious mental illness. The new Mental Health Act must deal with abuse and over-restrictive practices within services.

As I also wrote in my eletter, many psychiatrists were opposed to the rundown of the asylum and the development of community care because of their, at least perceived, loss of power in the traditional hospital. There is no longer an active debate about whether the asylums should have been closed, because the process has been completed. But at the time, because of the relatively high level of mental illness amongst the homeless population, it was argued that patients were being discharged irresponsibly from the traditional asylums ‘onto the street’. However, follow-up studies of discharged patients (such as TAPS eg. see my book review) showed that the rundown of the psychiatric hospital, at least in the UK, was not the main factor contributing to the numbers of homeless mentally ill. The tack of campaigning organisations, such as SANE, therefore, changed to blaming dehospitalisation for homicide by psychiatric patients, leading to a focus on public safety. High profile media cases, such as the death of Jonathan Zito, who was pushed under a train by Christopher Clunis, led to the formation of the Zito Trust. The new Labour government concluded that community care had failed. Any homicide by a psychiatric patient had to be investigated, despite the fact that homicides by psychiatric patients had not in fact increased. There is no standardised approach to such inquiries, however, (see Ng et al, 2020) and many of them have been destructive (see my unpublished paper).

The current reform of the Mental Health Act has to be understood in the context of the last attempt to reform it, which led to the 2007 amendments. The introduction of community treatment orders (CTOs) then was hailed as saving lives, with fantasy estimates of how many suicides and homicides would be prevented. Of course there is no evidence that CTOs have reduced deaths (see eg. previous post) and they should be repealed (see another previous post).

The forensic theory of risk comes from Mary Douglas (1992). Talk about risk is a political process. Debate about accountability is a contest to muster support for one action rather than another. People pressurise each other in society and a conformity is created. The charge of causing risk is a stick to beat opponents. Ulrich Beck (1992) advocated in his book Risk Society that science needs to stop pretending it is neutral. It needs to become more conscious of its political nature. As I said in my talk:-

There is a debate about the balance between risk taking and risk aversion. If anything, what the Risk Society seems to mean is a shift towards the risk aversion end of this relationship. The word risk has been pre-empted to mean bad risks. The promise of a good political outcome is couched in other terms. Yet any society which did not take risks would not be making the most of its opportunities for growth. Over-cautious risk-averse behaviour can be crippling.

The new Mental Health Act again needs to open up debate about the balance between risk taking and risk avoidance. The 2007 amendments were an aberation in progress towards freeing up mental health services started by the 1959 and 1983 Acts. Risk aversion is leading to too many people being detained for too long and inappropriately and forced to have treatment when it is not benefitting them. This situation needs to change and the White paper does not go far enough to correct it.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Second opinion for enforced psychiatric treatment

I've mentioned before (see eg. previous post) that patients detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA) should have a right to a second opinion of their choice for medical, nursing and social matters. Currently, detained patients who are not consenting to medication must have their treatment certified after three months by a Second Opinion Approved Doctor (SOAD) from the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The government's White paper to reform the MHA (see another previous post) proposes that patients refusing medication treatment must have it certified by the SOAD at day 14, and by 2 months if they do not have relevant capacity, rather than 3 months. I don't think it's fair that patients with capacity should have stronger protection in this respect merely because they have capacity. Protection should be the same for detained patients with and without capacity, although at least civil detention should actually be difficult to justify for people with mental capacity.

As I've also mentioned (see previous post), SOADs, certainly these days, merely tend to 'rubber-stamp' Responsible Clinicans’ (RCs') treatment plans. For example, I think it's reasonable for a SOAD to consult the nearest relative about the treatment of an incapacitous patient, but I don't think I've ever seen it happen. SOADs need to take account of the will and preferences of the patient (see another previous post), including any advanced statement or Advanced Choice Document but I'm not convinced they do.

As I've again also mentioned before (see eg. previous post), I think a better safeguard would be to abolish SOADs and have their function taken over by the Mental Health Tribunal (MHT). The MHT should be able to require the RC to reconsider a specific treatment decision in a Tribunal hearing, if necessary, as proposed by the White paper, following a preliminary ‘permission to appeal’ stage. Personally I've no objection to this decision being made by a single judge sitting alone, particularly if it makes the Tribunal more responsive in these circumstances, as it's simpler to organise a single rather than three person panel. If necessary, the judge should be able to seek advice from a panel of medical members. The judge will be able to consider and make a judgement about any conflict between the RC and second opinion doctor of the patient's choice and made by the second opinion doctor in their best interests.

Finally, in my previous post, I've talked about independent clinical opinions being available routinely for patients and nearest relatives as part of an improved advocacy service. As I keep saying, the White paper proposals do not go far enough. They need to be put under proper scrutiny on the basis of these alternative proposals that I am making.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Principles of the Mental Health Act

I've indicated before (see previous post) that I think the White paper on reform of the Mental Health Act (MHA) actually dilutes the principles in the current Code of Practice. I'm not exactly sure where the four principles come from that were produced by the Wessely review and went into the White paper: choice and autonomy; least restriction; therapeutic benefit; and the person as an individual.

The current Code of Practice in chapter 1 has five overarching principles: least restrictive option and maximising independence; empowerment and involvement; respect and dignity; purpose and effectiveness; and efficiency and equity. I do not think these principles should be replaced without clear reason, which the White paper does not seem to provide. These principles were strengthened when the Code of Practice was revised in 2015 from the Code first published in 2008. Certainly they seem stronger and more comprehensive than the White paper principles.

For example, having maximising independence as part of least restriction seems more positive. Similarly, empowerment and involvement as a principle seems better than mere choice and autonomy. The continual complaint of patients found by the independent review was the lack of respect and dignity they experienced in treatment, so it is helpful surely to have these as principles, whereas they are not included in the White paper. Adding person-centred care as a principle, which is presumably what the review meant by person as an individual, is helpful, as people should not be treated as objects. I think this was meant to be covered by purpose in the current Code of Practice. Effectiveness is not the same as efficiency and this distinction may be lost in the more generic term of therapeutic benefit. And anyway, isn’t the whole point of the Act for treatment (and assessment)?, so I’m not sure what’s added by including therapeutic benefit as a principle.

Considering the mistreatment of patients uncovered by the investigations into Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall (see last post), I think there needs to be explicit reference to the principle of avoiding  inhuman and degrading treatment. Part of the motivation for the Wessely review was because of racial disparities in the application of the Act (see eg. previous post), so I think anti-discrimination, including anti-racism, should also be included as a principle.

It is surprising to me that so many people seem prepared to accept that any change in the MHA is better than none, when there is good evidence that the principles proposed in the White paper are insufficient. There needs to be proper scrutiny of the White paper proposals.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Civil psychiatric detentions should be prohibited to secure facilities

I've mentioned before the scandals of Winterbourne View (see BBC report) and Whorlton Hall (see BBC report) exposed by Panorama (see previous post). The White paper on reform of the Mental Health Act (MHA) talks about needing to prevent the warehousing of patients in psychiatric hospitals. As I've said before (eg. see previous post), the White paper does not go far enough in its reforms. Specifically in this regard, it does not go far enough in preventing further mistreatment of detained patients as happened at Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall.

The mistreatment is not just of people with learning disability and autism, but also serious mental illness. What happened with the rundown of the traditional asylums, including those for learning disability (mental handicap as it was then called), is that difficult to manage or place patients have been shunted to secure provision, often out of the NHS in private facilities. I called this situation a scandal in 2007 (see my eletter). It has continued and needs to stop. What I'm suggesting is that any new admissions of civil detentions (part II of the MHA) should be prohibited to secure facilities.

It's as though psychiatry has forgotten its history of opening the doors of the asylum (see my 2015 talk on making the mental hospital therapeutic). By 1963, 80% of English psychiatric patients were in open wards. The advantages were said to be striking: tension reduced, violence declined, ‘escapes’ were no longer a problem and staff were able to give their attention more to therapy rather than custody. When I first started in psychiatry, we used to pride ourselves that acute wards were open. These days most of them are locked, if only behind key fobs, which patients and families do not have. This level of security may continue for those that may be difficult to manage because of their level of disturbance or aggression, as they may be moved to low, even occasionally medium, security, really designed more for forensic (Part III) patients who have committed a crime. This transfer to secure provision may follow unnecessarily long admissions to psychiatric intensive care units (PICUs), which were originally designed merely for very short-term treatment. And people can continue to spend unnecessarily long in secure facilities, rather than their disturbance being managed properly in a more open way. 

Part of the problem, as the White paper recognises, is about patients who are difficult to place. There is a need for more community rehabilitation, which the White paper recommends for learning disability. It should also have recommended it for serious mental illness. But the issues are not just about difficulty in placement and lack of appropriate community resources. It is also about developing the skills to manage people with disturbed mental states and challenging behaviour in a more open way in acute treatment to prevent further aggression and disturbance. I worried about the development of PICUs when this first happened because I thought it would mean, and I think has happened, that acute wards would lose the skills to manage disturbance and aggression. 

The White paper misses this point about Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall. It makes a distinction between the criteria used for detention under Part II and III. But the criteria for these admissions should remain the same, except that, as now, Part III cases may have a restriction order, as the real issue is about the environment in which Part II admissions take place. Any further admissions under Part II should be prohibited to secure facilities.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

The future of psychiatry

I recently came across an obituary for Lyn Pilowski (who I have mentioned in parenthesis in a previous post). Unfortunately she died aged 46 in 2007 of a brain tumour.

What interested me is that Anthony Clare (who I have also mentioned before eg. see previous post) thought she "embodied the future of psychiatry in the years to come". I think this just shows that Clare, despite his emphasis on an eclectic approach to psychiatry, really was a biomedical psychiatrist (see previous post), even if at the softer end of that spectrum. 

The hope of brain scanning for elucidating the biological basis of schizophrenia, which Pilowsky could be said to have embodied, has failed (see eg. another previous post). Psychiatry needs to be helped to become more relational in its practice.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Improving mental health advocacy

I've said before that the government's proposals to reduce coercion in mental health services do not go far enough (see previous post). This applies as far as advocacy services are concerned, as I think they need to be developed even further than the White paper proposals.

Advocacy promotes the human rights of people. The response to the consultation from the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) highlights problems currently with a number of human rights issues in mental health services, including "long periods of detention that are not of therapeutic benefit, concerns around people accessing mental health services and their loved ones having little say over their care, treatment and recovery". 

Patients and their families need to be helped to make informed decisions about mental health treatment. They need support to have their voices heard about poor service delivery, inaccessible care and unnecessary enforced treatment. As I’ve said before, detained patients should have a right to a second opinion of their choice both about detention and treatment (see previous post), and this should be available for medical, nursing and social matters. Reports produced by these independent experts should, if necessary, be much more routinely presented by solicitors to Mental Health Tribunals (MHTs). 

The White paper has made welcome proposals to improve the role of the Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA), including that the IMHA can appeal to the MHT on the patient’s behalf and can make a challenge to the MHT for the Responsible Clinician to reconsider a specific treatment decision. I think a pilot programme of culturally sensitive advocates to respond appropriately to the diverse needs of individuals from BAME backgrounds is already underway, and surely needs implementation in legislation.

I think there should actually be a national advocacy service, which is culturally appropriate, composed of IMHAs, mental health lawyers and independent experts. This new service would replace local contracts which provide a very variable IMHA service across the country. Such a new service should reduce coercion as patients and their families will be far better represented. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Relational psychiatry should not be seen as extreme

Robin Murray, who I've mentioned before (eg. see previous post) has an invited editorial in Psychological Medicine, which he co-edits with Kenneth Kendler, on 'Listening to our critics; the care of people with psychosis'. In the article he mentions the Critical Psychiatry Network (CPN). What I want to pick up is how he says that CPN is not only critical of psychiatry, but extremely critical. 

Robin Murray himself accepts that there is a "great deal wrong with psychiatry as it is practiced". He recognises that some critics want to abolish psychiatry. I've said before that critical psychiatry may partly have itself to blame for being seen as 'too critical' (see previous post).

Nonetheless, if the main intention of CPN is to make psychiatric practice more relational, then it should not be marginalised. Instead, the person-centred nature of psychiatry should be fundamental. It is actually an indictment of psychiatry that such a position could be seen as extreme. Psychiatry does need to face up to its tendency to objectify people.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A new Mental Health Act in England and Wales

I said in a previous post that I was pleasantly surprised by the White paper proposals for reforming the Mental Health Act 1983. Consultation (see my summary of the proposals) will end in a week’s time.

The government’s reforms to reduce coercion in mental health services should be supported, but they do not go far enough. For example, there is no consultation about community treatment orders (CTOs), which are proposed to be continued for at least another 5 years. The impact of the new Act on reducing their use and racial disparities in their application will be monitored during this period. This is despite there being research evidence that Section 17 leave arrangements under the Act and informal community arrangements have just as good outcomes (see previous post). The ‘long-leash’ arrangements of CTOs cannot be justified in my view.

The principles of the Act proposed in the White paper also need to be improved. For example, it is commonly stated that the Wessely review that preceded the White paper (see eg. previous post) was to respond to the need for respect, dignity and anti-racism in mental health services, but these principles are not even proposed in the White Paper. Other improvements of the White paper would include extending its proposals even further for an increased role for the Mental Health Tribunal and the development of advocacy services.

There needs to be further debate about these and other issues to create a new Mental Health Act.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Relational psychiatry has a reformist agenda

I said in a previous post that critical psychiatry, in my view, is reformist. I’ve also emphasised in the past (eg. see previous post) that the critical psychiatry movement is a broad church of reformers and revolutionaries. There are significant differences within the movement (see another previous post). In a way, I’ve always made a distinction between my view of critical psychiatry and the critical psychiatry movement as a whole.

I have now moved on to using the term relational psychiatry (see eg. previous post) at least partly because I think the broader radical approach of critical psychiatry has outlived its usefulness. I want to be clear that relational psychiatry does not take an exclusionist view that mental illness does not exist (eg. see previous post). Perhaps in a similar way to which mainstream psychiatry marginalised ‘anti-psychiatry’, there is a danger that ‘the criticals’ are also being marginalised, as, for example, illustrated in Twitter debates. I never have been ‘a critical’ in that sense. 

Nonetheless, relational psychiatry does not see primary mental illness as brain disease. Instead, it provides a framework which focuses on the person and has ethical, therapeutic and political implications for clinical practice.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Philosophy has discovered that the mentally ill are people - seriously!

The paper entitled 'I Am Schizophrenic, Believe It or Not!: A Dialogue about the Importance of Recognition' by Gilardi & Stanghellini (2021a) must be a major publication if it warrants 6 commentaries (from Brencio (2021), Fulford (2021), Banicki (2021), Bergqvist (2021), Flanagan (2021) and Myers (2021)). Understandably, Gilardi & Stanghellini (2021b) were given a chance to reply.

However, I can't quite see what the value of the paper is. Obviously, mentally ill people may want recognition. However, most people who have experienced a schizophrenic illness don't see themselves as mentally ill, at least at the time of the episode. I'm not saying there's no value in thinking psychodynamically about psychosis (eg. see my book review), but quite a few 'schizophrenics' are not interested in psychotherapy. And I’m not undermining the value of psychotherapy for those that want it (eg. see my talk).

Of course dialetical recognition is needed in therapy. But is this as far as the philosophy of psychiatry and psychology has got after all these years? Or am I missing something?

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Dualism and psychiatry

Christopher Chen-Wei Ng defends Cartesian dualism in psychiatry in an article in BJPsych Advances. It is a bold position to take as biomedical psychiatry often denigrates any challenge to its position as dualism (see eg. previous post). Chen Ng deals well enough with that claim, whereas I don’t think he deals so well with his other suggested reason for rejecting dualism, which he identifies as “an unhelpful attitude to patients and their illnesses”.

The original challenge to Cartesianism was vitalism. Georg Stahl took a integrated approach to mind and body rather than splitting them like Descartes. Stahl instead separated life from inanimate objects. For him, mind and body are not distinct, but integrated in the living organism. His explanation of why life was different from inorganic matter was more speculative, suggesting that the soul provided movement to matter in the body. Vitalism is as much derided now as Cartesianism, because it is seen as postulating a vital principle distinct from purely chemical or physical forces.

The reality, of course, is that living beings, including human beings, do have a purposiveness which cannot be derived from mere physico-chemical processes (see eg. previous post). Chen Ng is right to focus on the person in psychiatry. He doesn’t, however, need to return to dualism as such to do that.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The nonsense of reductionism in psychiatry

Konstantinos Fountoulakis (who I've mentioned before, see eg. previous post) argues in an Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica editorial that anti-reductionism in psychiatry is unscientific. He thinks the unavoidable consequence of the argument against reductionism is the affirmation of a "supernatural (divine or paranormal) source of additional properties". The line of reasoning of anti-reductionism from his point of view leads to a "creator with an intelligent plan". 

Even though this view is nonsense, I'm sure many psychiatrists are sympathetic to it. This situation shows how much psychiatry is still trapped in the history of conflict between Cartesianism and vitalism (see eg. previous post). Rather than go along with the stark binary opposition of Fountoulakis between reductionism and believing in a "creator with an intelligent plan", I think it makes more sense to concede that the relation between mind and matter is an enigma that can never be solved (see eg. previous post). Intentionality and directedness is part of the nature of life, not something external to life. Neuronal processes are not meaning making and lack intentionality, so can only mediate intentional acts as part of an overall life process (see eg. previous post). It is absurd to expect to be able to explain life in terms of merely mechanical principles of nature (see eg. another previous post). This situation doesn't justify belief in a supernatural external force. Even Stahl's vitalism did not posit a transcendent soul. Stahl’s anima was an immaterial ordering principle of movement within physiology. Of course I'm not defending vitalism; merely indicating the bizarre way in which Fountoulakis polarises the debate about reductionism. Anti-reductionism can still be a valid explanation without ontological implications (see another previous post). Fontoulakis should accept that our relationship to ourselves is irreducibly ambiguous (see eg. previous post).

Fountoulakis reinforces his argument for minimising the role of the environment in mental disorders by pointing to "the universality of mental disorder manifestations, with only a few culturally bound syndromes of questionable validity". Actually, it is important to recognise the extent to which psychiatric diagnosis is a cultural judgement (see previous post). Fountoulakis questions the WHO cross-national research which is commonly seen as having found a better outcome for schizophrenia in developing countries in comparison with developed ones. Nonetheless, it is important not to minimise the considerable differences in the presentation of psychosis in different countries. 

Fountoulakis says without reference: "Beyond doubt, there is a minority of patients which under strict double-blind placebo-controlled conditions respond absolutely perfectly to medication treatment". He goes on to conclude, "For these patients, there is no doubt that their mental illness can be completely reduced to neurobiological dysfunction." I'm presuming his degree of certainty comes from his own experience, but we do need to see some evidence. I think the lack of references for these claims is telling. Fountoulakis makes clear that if a position like this is not generalisable that his fear is again that it introduces "some kind of supernatural process" into the origins of mental disorder. He actually thinks psychiatrists are "too much psychosocially rather than biomedically inclined". He blames what he calls “'violent' deinstitutionalization since the 1960s" for the current deterioration in the condition of mental health patients who are being deprived of their rights to biomedical treatment. His defence of the biomedical model seems rather desperate. 

Of course, there are organic brain effects, but, despite what Fountoulakis implies, there are also functional mental disorders without biological abnormality (see eg. previous post). He does not seem to accept what he calls a “modified bio-psychosocial model” that sees mental illness as having a “basic neurobiological etiopathogenesis ... shaped by psychological, social, and cultural factors”. I too have difficulties with such an eclectic approach (see last post) but Fountoulakis seems to prefer a radical reductionistic point of view. The brain of course mediates mental illness, but although people may find it difficult to accept the lack of any neurobiological determination of functional mental disorder, such a view is not as “off the wall” as Fountoulakis makes out.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Understanding the biopsychosocial model

Rebecca Roache (who I’ve mentioned before eg. see previous post) in her two chapters of her co-edited book Psychiatry reborn: Biopsychosocial psychiatry in modern medicine considers the implication of viewing Engel’s biopsychosocial model as a Kuhnian paradigm (see previous post referencing Kuhn’s The structure of scientific revolutions). As she points out, there is a dichtomy between understanding (Verstehen) and explanation (Erklären). I tend to prefer the terms used by Thomas Fuchs: personalistic vs naturalistic (see previous post) as two ways of looking at the body. Basically, first and second person narratives provide understanding, and third person narratives attempt explanation in terms of brain processes. 

As Rebecca Roache points out, we need to apply psychosocial concepts to understand mental illness, which is contingent on the person having certain sorts of subjective experience. In this way it differs from physical illness. Psychiatric disorders do not stand or fall with the presence or absence of biological pathology, whereas physical diseases do. Psychological or behavioural considerations in fact cannot be eliminated in characterising mental disorders. Rebecca Roache suggests we should therefore be “cautious in hoping for biological characterizations of mental illness”. I would go further in suggesting it is a mistake to do so (see eg. previous post). At least Rebecca Roache agrees that “it is unrealistic to hope that a purely biological account of mental disorder is possible”. 

As far as the biopsychosocial model is concerned, Rebecca Roache concludes, “Psychological and social explanations are not eliminable in favour of (that is, reducible to) biological ones, largely because of the way that mental illnesses are conceived and diagnosed.” I think this is the message that Engel was trying to convey in promoting his biopsychosocial model. The problem is that this meaning has been lost in eclectic accounts of what ‘biopsychosocial’ means (see eg. previous post).

As Rebecca Roache says in her other chapter in the book, this eclecticism “often involves little more than an acknowledgement that biological, psychological, and social factors are all relevant to understanding mental illness”. As she goes on, in one sense this is “so obvious as to be trivial”. The implication is that psychiatrists often say that the causes of mental illness are multifactorial. Rebecca Roache picks up Kenneth Kendler’s use of the term ‘dappled’ in this respect, although Kendler in fact does not see his empirically based pluralism as being the same as Engel’s biopsychosocial approach (see previous post). 

As Rebecca Roache indicates, it is far from clear that Engel is taking an eclectic position. In fact, I do not think he does (see eg. previous post). I agree with her that his account can be improved, particularly when it has been so often misunderstood as eclectic (see another previous post). I have mentioned that Sanneke de Haan has criticised the biopsychosocial model for being vague about how the biological, psychological and social interact (see eg. previous post). I think her description of enactive psychiatry, seeing mental illness as abnormal sense-making (see another previous post), can help to flesh out the biopsychosocial model. I also think Thomas Fuchs ecological approach to understanding the brain (see eg. previous post) can do the same. Engel himself noted that his biopsychosocial approach links to Adolf Meyer’s Psychobiology (see eg. previous post and my article). I’m sure Engel’s biopsychosocial model can be enriched by accounts such as these. But we first need to understand it as a non-eclectic model, a mistake which I think came about because of psychiatry’s response to so-called anti-psychiatry (see eg. previous post).

Monday, January 18, 2021

Objectives of Mental Health Act reform

The impact assessment of the white paper on Reforming the Mental Health Act lists the policy objectives for the proposed legislation. I have been pleasantly surprised by the changes proposed and think that the consultation can be worked with to improve mental health legislation. I think it does provide a potential framework for new legislation to make mental health services more supportive of people without mental capacity, the loss of which in the case of mental illness may just be temporary. 

As I have said before (eg. see previous post), though, I think this aim of supporting people, rather than focusing on compulsion, could be made more explicit. As far as the policy objectives are concerned, improving patient choice, experience and participation are important, but it isn’t just earlier and more frequent access to safeguards against detention and enforced treatment that are needed. Instead, the focus of intervention needs to be on informal rather than formal measures. This is not to deny that such formal measures may be needed but, for example, the right to refuse treatment should not merely be taken away by detention. Treatment should be seen as being of the highest quality if it avoids compulsion whenever possible. Such high quality services also need to be anti-racist, which again could be made more explicit in the objectives. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Consultation on changes to Mental Health Act begins

With considerable press publicity, the government has announced it will set out its proposals for reform of the Mental Health Act in a White paper (see eg. previous post). Despite all the apparent good intentions (see press release), we do need to see the detail in the White paper. 

For example, a statutory advance choice document may seem like a good idea but it's not clear why the will and preferences of people are not taken into account whether or not they have signed an official document. Nor am I clear how the appointment of a nominated person will work or how the role of advocacy will be expanded, including culturally appropriate advocates. I doubt whether learning disability and autism are being excluded from the Act, and it's not clear how these provisions will differ from those for mental illness. Nor am I sure how legislative changes may impact on improving access to community services. 

There do not seem to be any proposals for reform of the Mental Health Tribunal, so that people have a right to an independent report of their choice to be presented before the Tribunal. It is also unclear whether community treatment orders will be changed. Consideration needs to be given to whether they should be abolished. Nor is there any mention in the press release of improving the role of the CQC, and whether Second Opinion Approved Doctors (SOADs) still provide a safeguard. This function could be taken over by an improved unbiased Tribunal (a single judge, without medical and lay input) which fully considers the evidence presented to it from the person's point of view and makes decisions both about detention and treatment. In general, there seems to be insufficient acknowledgement that the criteria under which coercive treatment can be given are too wide (see eg. previous post), which leads to far too much unacceptable, and even abusive, treatment. The evidence collected by the Wessely Review in this respect does not seem to have been fully taken into account (see eg. another previous post).

Friday, January 01, 2021

Supporting people through mental health and capacity legislation

I’ve said before (see eg. previous post) that I’m concerned that the government’s White Paper on reform of the Mental Health Act will not go far enough. This is because it is likely to be based on the review chaired by Simon Wessely. He says in the foreword to the review that “the Mental Health Act takes away your liberty and imposes treatment that you don’t want ... and ... can help restore health, and even be life-saving”. As he also says, this tension is nothing new, but I think the opportunity to have a fundamental rethink about the role of legislation for treatment of mental health problems may have been lost.

Surely the essential aim of mental health and capacity legislation should be to support people with their incapacity/disability, which may well be temporary in the case of mental illness. I actually don't think legislation should primarily be about the removal of liberty and the imposition of treatment. Informal admission should again be seen as the dominant mode of inpatient treatment if this is needed. If detention is necessary, the person's dignity and respect need to be preserved and any decisions made need to take account of their will and preferences. Part of the problem is that we have become trapped in a historic tension between restraint and freedom. We do not immediately need to be jumping to substitute decision making or coercion to support people when they lose or do not have mental capacity. I have always accepted that these measures may be needed, but the legislative framework needs to change so that such interventions are not necessarily seen as a priority. Coercion may be more to do with a failure of treatment than treatment itself.