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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:20 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 3:20 pm, 25th July 2019

As far as legislation is concerned, ultimately people with autism who are suffering from mental ill health will be detained under the Mental Health Act. Perhaps we ought to pick up how that interacts with other legislation as we develop the White Paper. The overlap is a clear problem.

I have paid tribute to Sir Simon Wessely. We are all about making sure that our reforms deliver genuinely person-centred care. We should be removing coercion and control as far as we can.

My hon. Friend Johnny Mercer talked about Georgi Lopez, who addressed the all-party group and whom I had the pleasure of meeting. She tells a compelling story about her contrasting experiences. She readily concedes that on one occasion being detained under the Act was the best thing that could have happened to her, but on another occasion it did her genuine harm. In fact, Members who read Frank Bruno’s book will find exactly the same story. It is almost as if once someone is on that pathway and under detention, they will always be seen through that prism. We need to tackle the underlying prejudice. People who are suffering from mental ill health are vulnerable; they are not an inconvenience. Any services provided by the state need to be working with them to support them, not to do them harm.

Our overall objective when we asked Sir Simon to look at the Act was to reduce the rising number of people detained under it. I hope that underlines the spirit with which we are approaching the inquiry. We also asked him specifically to address the disparities in how the Act is used, highlighting in particular the impact on black and ethnic minority groups, but also on women. It is of great credit to him that he went much further than that and led a full review of the entire Act. Again, that raises the expectations on me to deliver fundamental reform—but that is fine; it is what I am here to do. He did so with such speed, and having taken so many with him, that he has provided exactly the right conditions to approach reform.

Sir Simon built relationships with service users and carers, and I am riding on the back of them. I meet those people regularly to hear directly from them about their responses to his recommendations. We will continue with that. I have been struck by some of the experiences shared with me by service users and family members, which bring home how disempowering it can be. I often talk about the arrogance of medical professionals who, when someone turns up and says, “Fix me,” send them along. That dismissiveness can be more so in mental health than anywhere else. We need to ensure that we put in a regime that treats people with dignity and respect.

At the heart of this issue, the current Act has much too big a disempowering effect, which does too much to remove people’s autonomy and not enough to support their decision making and influence over their own care. It is dehumanising. We should look at detention as the last resort, because it does genuinely do harm. That is not to be critical: staff will act with the best of intentions, but a lot of it depends on culture. When Georgi Lopez shared her experiences, she talked about the two very different cultures of the organisations in which she was detained. When the CQC visits such places and assesses whether they are well led, it must assess the culture and whether patients are genuinely empowered.

I do not think we should duck the fact that sometimes we will have to detain people for their safety and that of others, but we need to ensure that we have the right guarantees in place. I am struck by something that Sir Simon always says: from the moment of detention, release planning should start there and then. A credible care plan is all about getting people back out and re-empowered. It should be based on consent and empowering the patient.

As has been mentioned, Sir Simon’s report contains 154 recommendations. I will work with the Ministry of Justice on a joint White Paper from both Departments, which will come forward by the end of the year. We have already started to implement the recommendations that we can, and I hope that Members are reassured by how, last week, the previous Prime Minister re-emphasised her commitment to making sure that we tackle the issues regarding black and ethnic minority detainees. I know she will continue to have a full interest in these issues from the Back Benches. I reassure the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South that if she sees no sign of a White Paper, she has a good ally on the Government Benches to hold the Government’s feet to the fire. I look forward to engaging with all hon. Members on those recommendations when we come forward with our White Paper, for which we should also consider the issues that have been highlighted during the debate.

As I have said, we want to modernise and ensure that people who are detained under the Act receive better care by improving patient choice and autonomy in their treatment. We will introduce statutory advanced choice documents to enable people to express, in advance of detention, their view on the care and treatment that works best for them.

It is important to talk about the role of family, because we have agreed that patients should be able to identify a nominated person who will have the power to look after their interests under the Act. At the moment, the next of kin is the default. I have heard compelling evidence from patients who have said that that is not always appropriate. Family members can often be a source of abuse or additional pressure and harm, so patients want to be able to nominate someone, which seems extremely sensible. I recognise that that will cause some controversy.