Mental Health Act 1983 — [Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark 1:30 pm, 25th July 2019

It certainly should, but we should not have to wait for new legislation—some measures can be taken before that. Given that the White Paper is due by the end of the year, legislation many not come soon enough to help some of those young people who are experiencing problems now.

I hope the Minister will indicate that the Government’s rhetoric on parity of care will be matched by action on preventing the need for detention. Sadly, all the evidence points in the other direction. Parity of care—the requirement to treat mental and physical health equally—was enshrined in law in 2012 and became part of the NHS constitution in 2015. Although mental health accounts for 28% of the overall disease burden, as the NHS terms it, it received just 13% of NHS funding, according to the Centre for Mental Health. In cash terms, the King’s Fund has shown that between 2012 and 2017, funding for acute and specialist hospitals grew by almost 17%, while that for mental health trusts grew by just over 5.5%.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has found that, taking into account inflation, the real-terms income of mental health trusts across the UK has fallen since 2011. It says that 62% of mental health trusts in England reported a lower income at the end of 2016-17 than in 2011-12. Sadly, only one trust experienced a rise in funding in all five financial years. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has also reported that mental health trusts received £105 million less in 2016-17 than in 2011-12, at today’s prices. There is no parity of funding, even though the Government are legally committed to it.

The 40% rise in detention over the past decade has come at the same time as a loss of overnight beds—between 2010 and 2017, the figure went down from more than 25,000 to less than 20,000—and a 15% decrease in the number of mental health nursing posts. Demand is rising as a result of detentions, but the number of staff has diminished and there is also less space available. The Care Quality Commission, which regulates mental health services, has reported that previously preventable admissions are now not being prevented because of cuts to less restrictive alternatives, such as community mental health services. There has also been an increase in the number of people with at-risk factors when it comes to detention, such as social exclusion and untreated drug or alcohol misuse.

Clearly, it is not in someone’s best interest to be detained if that is avoidable. A breakdown of mental health and behaviour can be deeply damaging for individuals, and their families and loved ones, but detention is extremely costly, especially compared with drug and alcohol treatment services or other interventions and support in the community. The average cost of each detention is estimated to be just over £18,000. The 50,000 detentions over the past year cost an estimated £900 million. That money could have gone so much further in earlier interventions to prevent detention.

Of course, there are also costs to how people are identified or present themselves in crises that result in detention. Sometimes they are homeless. I know the Minister has done a lot of work on that. We have met on several occasions and I know that she views homelessness as a public health issue—an issue that overlaps with the topic of this debate. Homelessness as a result of mental ill health increases physical health issues, which result in costs to the NHS.

Sometimes people in crisis are identified by the police. The last time my mum was sectioned—I think it was in 2016—she had had a car accident in which she hit a bollard. No one was injured, but she was prosecuted for the accident. My family and I—including my sister Alex, who I know is watching—had sought help for mum. We knew that she was becoming unwell and that she was not taking her medication, and we tried in advance to alert people to her need for support and to get her back on track, but that did not happen. She had agreed to plead guilty when the case went to court—she was guilty; she hit the bollard and no one else was responsible—but when she was asked how she would plead, she said that she could not be guilty because she had been wearing blue that day. Of course, that made no sense to anyone and resulted in the ordering of a psychiatric assessment, which was a pathway back into mental health care.

That was not necessary. Police and court involvement cause unnecessary cost to the taxpayer. If earlier interventions had occurred at the request of family members, that could have been avoided. I ask those hon. Members who have not been out with their local police and emergency responders to please do so. The last time I did it in Southwark, the police responded to a surprising number of 999 calls that involved someone with a mental health condition. That is not just anecdotal evidence; it is backed up by national statistics.

Troublingly, police statistics show an increased use of section 136 of the Act. That power is used by the police exclusively to remove

“mentally disordered persons without a warrant.”

Between 2015-16 and 2017-18, the use of that power in Southwark doubled, from 60 detentions to 121. That number fell slightly last year, but the shocking overall rise shows the price of underfunded mental health services, with the police often picking up the pieces in situations that should be handled by healthcare specialists and community interventions. Of course there will be some who are unknown to services, but most are not, and there are some who present with issues relating to suicide. Tackling the majority of cases upstream should be the target. I hope the Minister will state how that will be done through a White Paper or new legislation.

I welcome the previous Prime Minister’s commitment to end the use of police cells to detain people who are experiencing mental ill health. I hope that that commitment will continue under the new Government, because a police cell is no place for someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis. Although there has been a 95% fall in the use of cells and custody facilities since 2011, in the latest figures from 2016-17 they still accounted for almost 4% of detentions. I hope that the Minister will set out when the Government expect the number of people going through the system to be zero.

The point that I am trying to ram home is that overreliance on sectioning and detention can be bad for the individual and their families, but also for the taxpayer. We can do better than that. It is not just a matter of the loss of liberty; the Care Quality Commission has also sounded the alarm over risks for people when they are detained, including compulsory treatment and sexual assault. It reports that almost one fifth of patient records—double the proportion in the previous year’s study—

“showed no evidence of consideration of the least restrictive options for care.”

It also stated:

“We have seen limited or no improvement in the key concerns we have raised in previous years.”

That is the regulator saying, “Not only have we identified the problem this year, but we told you about it in previous years, and still no improvement has been made.” Its evidence shows that 1,120 sexual safety reports were made in a three-month period in 2017, of which 457 were about sexual assault or harassment of patients or staff. Some of our most vulnerable citizens are at risk of sexual assault while they are detained under the state’s powers. That is an absolutely appalling record in any civilised society.

These problems all undermine mental health treatment and use of the Act and make it no surprise that research commissioned by the Mental Health Alliance shows that individual experiences of being detained under the Act are far from positive. It surveyed more than 8,000 people, and the majority of respondents who had been detained did not believe that the Mental Health Act sufficiently protected them from inhuman or degrading treatment. Some 61% of respondents who had been detained disagreed with the statement, “People are currently treated with dignity when detained”, as did 41% of mental health professionals. The unity behind the case for reform and true parity of care could not be clearer. I hope that the Minister will cover those issues and confirm more of what the Government aim to put in their Bill when it appears, including human rights provisions.

At the Disability Rights Commission in 2004-05, I helped to bring organisations of and for disabled people together behind the principles that were then put in the Mental Health Act 2005:

“A person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity.

A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision unless all practicable steps to help him to do so have been taken without success.

A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision merely because he makes an unwise decision is made.”

Our right to make bad decisions is enshrined in legislation. I apologise to any smokers present, but they make a bad choice every time they light a cigarette, and arguably the Conservative party has chosen badly in selecting Boris Johnson. The fourth and fifth principles are:

“An act done, or decision made, under this Act for or on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must be done, or made, in his best interests.

Before the act is done, or the decision is made, regard must be had to whether the purpose for which it is needed can be as effectively achieved in a way that is less restrictive of the person’s rights and freedom of action.”

We have precedent in legislation, and we need to support that approach again in reforming the Mental Health Act, with a resolute belief in patient-centred care, with as much choice, control and dignity as is humanly possible.

People’s experiences of being detained vary wildly. It cannot be right that some people are treated worse simply because the place where they become unwell does not have access to the right level of support. We need more standardised access to care, and more standardised care when it has to be provided. I recognise that detention cannot always be avoided, and that it has welcome results when people come out better than when they went in, but even when it is necessary, it must be done better—and there are ways to do that.

Advance decisions were one of the review’s two recommendations that the Government accepted. It is crucial that patients be involved in planning their care as much as possible. The Care Quality Commission’s research shows that under the current legislation, a staggering one in five patients detained have no input whatever in their care plans. It examined the plans in place for those patients and found that most of them were of poor quality, lacked planning and had no evidence of patients’ consent to treatment when they were admitted to hospital. Introducing advance choice documents so that people can set out their wishes about future care and treatment, and giving them more legal weight than they have under the current system, would help to solve that problem and improve care for thousands of people.

I will give a quick practical example for anyone who needs it. Medication for schizophrenia has improved dramatically. Some of the medication that mum used to take would cause regular, sustained vomiting, which caused teeth loss and worse. Different treatments are available. If she were sectioned and put back on that medication, knowing the side effects, it would obviously make the treatment worse for her. I hope that the Minister will give a strong indication about the Government’s plans for advance decisions and the ability to make choices that can improve the treatments available.

When a person is detained under the Act, they have a “nearest relative” who has certain rights to be involved in their care. Many family members and patients value the fact that relatives are given a statutory role, but that relative is chosen from an outdated hierarchal list that is based on age, rather than on the views of the individuals involved or on whether they have a good relationship. The Government accepted that recommendation from the review. I hope that the Minister will have more to say about that today—[Interruption]—and less about stopping Brexit, which is the chant outside that may have been caught on the microphones.

Those who are detained under the Act have effectively no legal say over their treatment and no automatic right to advocacy in the event of their detention. The fact that such rights are not enshrined in the legislation illustrate that reform is badly needed. Establishing a right to an advocate for all mental health in-patients, whether voluntary or detained, without having to ask for one, would also radically improve care, as would the statutory inclusion of a patient’s advance wishes in their treatment plan. I hope that the Minister will give an indication on that matter today as well.

I will cut down the bit of my speech about resources, because they have already been mentioned and I know that other hon. Members want to speak. However, cuts have had serious implications, including for the distances that people, including children, have to travel for treatment: they are often taken hundreds of miles away from their friends, family and community. That cannot be acceptable. Wider cuts to council budgets and the public health agenda have also had an impact, and my constituency has experienced the knock-on effects. We lost an organisation called CoolTan Arts, which used to provide creative and employment support for many disadvantaged people with mental health conditions.

My very real fear is that the bad old days have crept back. For too long, Ministers have ignored the problems. There have been cuts to services, and we are seeing more ill-trained or morale-sapped staff; an overuse of agency crews; rising use of detention, which locks the problem away out of sight; and compulsion rather than empowerment. That must change. The new Prime Minister must listen to what is said in this debate; I hope he will. The White Paper that has been promised must be delivered and must reflect the spirit and ambition of the independent review.

New legislation must also be passed to update the Act. It is not just about getting a better piece of legislation; more importantly, it is about better treatment for the thousands of people with mental health conditions and their families up and down the country. There is cross-party support for this work: 49 colleagues have signed early-day motion 1242, which

“calls on the Government to reform the Mental Health Act…during this Parliament”.

There is appetite in the Commons for that reform, so I hope it will be delivered.

We have a window of opportunity to improve thousands of people’s lives. I hope that the Minister and the new Cabinet and Government will take it.