A new draft Bill to reform the Mental Health Act (MHA) will be consulted on by MPs, the government announced in the Queen’s speech yesterday.

The purpose of the Bill will be to ensure that people with mental health conditions have greater control over their treatment and make it easier for people with a learning disability and autistic people to be discharged from hospital.

To do this, the term ‘mental disorder’ will be redefined. Currently, autism is classed as a “mental disorder” under the Act, and anyone with a learning disability can be detained is they present with “abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct”.

Amending this definition, the Bill suggests, will ensure that no one is detained under the MHA solely because the have a learning disability or are autistic.

The criteria needed to detain someone will also be changed so that the Act is only used when strictly necessary (i.e. when then person is a risk to their own safety or that of others, or where there is a clear therapeutic benefit).

In addition, a statutory care and treatment plan will be introduced for all detained patients. This will be written with the patient and will set out a clear pathway to discharge.

Government must now develop suitable community-based support and housing

The proposed reforms have been welcomed by disability charities and organisations, but campaigners say they are long overdue and action must be urgently taken to ensure community care is available to those who no longer need to be in hospital.

Edel Harris OBE, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “We welcome the Government’s Mental Health Act reforms which recognise that a learning disability is a lifelong disability and not a mental health problem. People deserve to live in homes, not hospitals, and this legislation will support efforts to put a stop to this human rights scandal once and for all.

“The challenge for the Government now is to develop suitable community-based support and housing to prevent people with a learning disability and autism from being admitted to institutions in the first place.

 “We look forward to the Government action plan on ‘Building the Right Support’, which should prioritise delivery of the right support at the right time. Families have waited too long to see their loved ones living fulfilling lives in the community, and these reforms are a vital step in protecting human rights.”

Jolanta Lasota, Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism, has similarly called for the government to “act swiftly” and invest in early community-based support to put an end to the “shocking situation.”

She added that the government’s SEND review must “do more to ensure autistic young people get the right support from their earliest years, so they can be themselves and achieve their ambitions.”