Monday, November 08, 2021

Engaging people in Mental Health Act reform

Reform of the Mental Health Act in England and Wales can learn from reform in other parts of the world, not least Scotland (see previous post) and Italy (see another previous post). I'm also impressed with what the Victoria state government in Australia is doing (see its Mental Health and Wellbeing Act: update and engagement paper). 

The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System had a vision of a more holistic mental health system, rather than a system that often focuses on a ‘biomedical model’ of treatment and decision making. Treatment, care and support recommendations were about ensuring compulsory treatment is only used as a last resort; moving away from coercive practices; reducing the use of seclusion and restraint with the aim of elimination over a 10-year period; and regulation of chemical restraint (see final report). 

The Victorian Government is doing what I wished the UK government had done in England and Wales (see previous post) by repealing its current Mental Health Act and enacting a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act. People living with mental illness or psychological distress will be provided with compulsory treatment only as a last resort after all other treatment and non-treatment options have been considered and excluded, and only when needed to prevent serious and imminent harm to themselves or another person (see eg. previous post for comparison of objectives in England and Wales which are much weaker).

There is already a right to a second psychiatric opinion in Victoria and the changes are designed to stop delays by making access to a second opinion more flexible. Reasons for not accepting the opinion of the second psychiatrist will need to be documented and, if necessary, the patient has a right to seek review from the Chief Psychiatrist or to apply to the Mental Health Tribunal for their order to be revoked. I have been arguing for detained patients in England and Wales to have a right to a second opinion, not only on medical but also nursing and social matters (see previous post). This would mean that Second Opinion Approved Doctors could be abolished, as applications can be made about treatment decisions to the Tribunal if needed, and it’s better that the patient is able to choose who provides the second opinion.

Similarly, I think the changes proposed to advocacy in Victoria have helpful implications for reform in England and Wales (see eg. last post). An opt out non-legal advocacy system will be created (see another previous post). Service providers will be required to notify non-legal advocacy services within 24 hours of the making of an order. No restrictions can be placed on the patient’s right to communicate with an advocate. The rights of the advocate to access records and obtain information will also be improved. These matters also need to be taken forward in introducing opt out advocacy in England and Wales.

Although the Independent review in England and Wales was motivated to improve the dignity and respect of detained patients (see previous post) , the Victorian government seems to be dealing with these issues better. It’s not too late to clarify the principles of Mental Health Act reform in England and Wales (see eg. another previous post) with implications for implementation of a new Bill.

(With thanks to Stephen Hinchley at Voiceability for alerting me to the work in Victoria)

No comments: