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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:06 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care) 3:06 pm, 25th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson, as it was to serve under Ms Buck earlier. I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend Neil Coyle on securing this debate and echo their comments about the moving way in which he opened the debate. He started with his own family experience and then made a very powerful speech. I am sorry that you missed it, Mr Hanson. We heard contributions from Dr Lewis and Johnny Mercer, as well as my right hon. Friend Mr Jones and my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). I am sure we all want to thank Sir Simon Wessely and his team for their work in reviewing the Mental Health Act.

The wide range of perspectives in the debate is welcome. It shows how wide-ranging the work is and how it touches on so many different aspects. One thing on which we can all agree is that the current Mental Health Act is not working. It is too often overly restrictive and fails to give people the support they need, as we have heard. Before I discuss the contents of the review, I want to mention why it is so important that we get this right, because being detained under the Mental Health Act, although it is sometimes life-saving, can be immensely damaging if it goes wrong, and we have heard already about how it can go wrong. I, too, am going to talk about a case: the case of Matthew Leahy.

On 7 November 2012, Matthew was admitted to a mental health hospital under the Mental Health Act. On 15 November, he hanged himself in his room at the hospital. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has identified failures in Matthew’s care that may have led to his death, but they have taken seven years to come to light. My hon. Friend Mr Reed talked about delays. They are exasperating, concerning and impossible for families who have to live with the loss of a loved one. Some of the failures in Matthew’s case were truly shocking. He complained that he had been raped in the mental health hospital. The ombudsman found that had Matthew not phoned the police himself, it is not clear that staff on the unit would have done so. Anyway, the police failed to take action.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark referred to the level of sexual assaults on patients—an appalling record, as reported by the CQC. It should be of deep concern to us that that is happening. Staff also failed to act when Matthew reported, and he had physical injuries that could have been caused by rape, which should have been a major cause of concern. It is also deeply concerning that his care plan was falsified and other paperwork was lost. Although he had a care plan for his first 72 hours in the unit, staff produced a fuller care plan only after he died. That that should have happened when he was apparently under the protection of the state is unacceptable. We must ensure that we know what went wrong in his and other cases of death so that we can act to prevent it from recurring.

There have also been issues with the subsequent investigation. The initial report by the NHS partnership contained inaccuracies about how Matthew’s care had been planned. Across the board, the partnership failed to learn the lessons of Matthew’s death, which compounds the tragedy of that young man taking his own life while he was in the care of the state. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North has said, there should be independent investigations of deaths that occur in mental health hospitals. I know that the Minister has been asked before to set up an inquiry into Matthew Leahy’s death. I ask her to commit to doing so now, so that we can learn the lessons from that tragic event and prevent such a thing from happening again.

Sir Simon’s recommendations will not solve every problem with our in-patient mental health services, but the Opposition believe that they would improve them, and would remove many of the major issues with the Mental Health Act. Although we have a little time, we cannot focus on all 154 of the recommendations. I just want to discuss the principles that he felt should be central to the operation of the Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark outlined those four principles in his opening speech.

The first principle is choice and autonomy. Of course, it should go without saying that, wherever possible, we give people control over what is happening to them. I am glad that the Government have committed to introducing advance choice documents. Those will be central to ensuring that people can exercise choice over what happens to them. We have heard in many of today’s speeches why that is important. I ask the Minister to confirm today, if she can, when those plans will be brought forward. There will be instances when people cannot exercise the choice themselves, so Sir Simon’s proposals for the new nominated person role and increased use of advocates will ensure that in those circumstances people are still able to influence their care.

During the passage of the Mental Capacity Act 2019 there was a great deal of discussion, involving my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North, about advocacy. We must ensure that local authorities are fully funded to provide those vital services. It would be a travesty if someone were denied a voice because of budget constraints at their local council. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government will provide additional funding for advocacy to ensure that that does not happen?

The second principle is that of least restriction. It seems self-evident that we should try to ensure that people retain as much of their freedom as possible, but we have heard of the number of ways in which that does not happen. It might mean supporting people to enter mental health hospitals voluntarily rather than their being detained, or ending the use of seclusion and segregation and the terrible cases of restraint that we heard about.

The third principle is therapeutic benefit. Again, it should be self-evident that everything done under the Mental Health Act should be clearly aimed at helping the person in question to recover. If it is not, what is the justification for detaining them? My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East talked about people with autism and learning difficulties in mental health hospitals, and we have to question how often their detention for periods of five years, or five and a half years, helps them at all, and whether any of what happens to them could be talked about as treatment.

Finally, Sir Simon emphasised the importance of treating the person as an individual. In particular, that section of the review focused on the current experiences of young people and people from BAME communities in mental health facilities. We have heard about that in speeches today. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East talked about the lack of support for families of children with out-of-area placements. Sir Simon recommends that, while those still exist—my party pledges to do away with them—financial assistance should be available when a young person is admitted to a placement away from their family. We are committed to ending inappropriate out-of-area placements, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East talked about a case where, if a facility was the only one that would be able to provide the care, a parent would choose it. However, that support and financial assistance must be available. It is not right to cut off a young person’s support network when they need it most.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham also talked about why the powers under the Act are being used more with people from BAME communities, and we must focus relentlessly on the facts.