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Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:28 am on 6th July 2018.

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Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire 10:28 am, 6th July 2018

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jeremy Quin. I echo many of the points that have been raised by colleagues today and in the debate three weeks ago, at which I was present but unfortunately did not get the opportunity to speak.

I congratulate Mr Reed on the work he has done and the success he has had in gaining support not only across the House, but from Government, for this Bill, which I think we all agree is incredibly important.

I fully respect the intentions behind the Bill and the potential impact it could have for families affected by mental health. I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s endeavour to honour Seni Lewis’s memory in this way. I understand that Seni’s law, as the Bill is known, is personally important to the Lewis family, who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue with considerable success. These are important proposals for people in all our constituencies, and particularly those who have a family member or relative suffering with mental health issues. They need to know that the mental health units that their loved ones are in the care of are providing a safe and secure environment. That is a basic and fundamental right and expectation.

Around 9,000 people are restrained in mental health settings a year in England. The Bill is a significant piece of legislation, as it will serve as an important reform of the way in which we treat those detained under the Mental Health Act. It also represents significant progression in this area. It is about ensuring trust and accountability in the mental health system—something that tragic case studies have sadly shown is not always in place. I think every Member in the Chamber today would like to see a reduction in the use of force, and the Bill will help to provide that reduction.

However, while targets are all well and good, in certain circumstances—for example, when a patient is violent—the people caring for a patient might need to be able to protect themselves from harm and might have to resort to some form of force to do so. Assuming that use of force is a last resort, proportionate and does not risk the patient’s health, it is reasonable that they are afforded that protection. I appreciate that this is a delicate area, but it is important that clarity is provided in the published policies and that balance is sought.

I think it is fair to say that we cannot foresee every violent and threatening situation that may arise. Clearly we want a reduction in the use of force, and we can question the frequency of its use, but we must also consider a mental health carer who may find themselves attacked by a patient who may not understand what they are doing. We do not want to put people off undertaking this important role, for fear of prosecution. While these are obviously courses of action that we hope will never be needed, it is impossible to rule out situations arising in which one of them is a necessary last resort, in the best interests of both patient and carer.

Mind, the mental health charity, which does such important work in this area, makes a useful contribution to this consideration, saying:

“Healthcare staff and police do a challenging job and sometimes need to make difficult decisions very quickly. Often they use force to control someone’s behaviour, which can include physically restraining someone against their will, injecting them with medication and using seclusion to confine and isolate someone on the ward. For the person in crisis, this can be humiliating, traumatising and even life-threatening.”

A balance must be found in the interests of the wellbeing and safety of all of those involved.

The Bill complements the real focus we have seen from this Government on mental health, and in particular the treatment, priority, stigma and people costs of mental health matters. In October 2017, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would embark on a comprehensive review of the Mental Health Act, with a final report later this year. I am encouraged that the review will examine existing practices and address the disproportionately high rate of detention of people from ethnic minorities. As a country, we have taken progressive steps to improve the mental health sector, and the Bill is another step in the right direction. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care summed it up pretty well in Committee when she said:

“Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Bill is that it enshrines accountability for ensuring that any institution fulfils its responsibilities. The buck needs to stop somewhere, and it is important that happens with someone at board level.”––[Official Report, Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Public Bill Committee, 28 March 2018;
c. 7.]

I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, so I am pleased to support the Bill today.