Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Government’s failure to respond to Mental Health Bill recommendations “unacceptable”

The learning disability charity Mencap is urging the government to act on the recommendations set out in a report by MPs which called for the draft Mental Health Bill to be strengthened.

The report by the Joint Committee was published in January 2023. It examined the extent to which the draft Bill promotes patient choice, addresses racial inequalities and ensures fewer people are detained against their wishes.

The Committee found that the reform process needs to continue beyond the draft Bill in the direction of more rights-led legislation that respects patient choice. MPs also urged the government to publish a comprehensive implementation and workforce plan alongside the Bill with clear actions and milestones.

However, one year on, the government has failed to respond or act on the recommendations laid out in this report.

Chair of the Committee Baroness Buscombe said the government’s failure to act is “unacceptable and inexcusable”.

MPs say Mental Health Bill must be strengthened

Charities and campaigners say the Mental Health Act 1983 is causing thousands of people with learning disabilities to be inappropriately detained in mental health hospitals when they could be living in the community.

Currently, more than 2,000 people with a learning disability or autism are locked away inside mental health hospitals, most of whom are detained under the Mental Health Act. The average length of stay in these hospitals is more than five years.

The new draft Mental Health Bill removes learning disabilities and autism as conditions for which people can be detained for treatment in some circumstances.

However, the Joint Committee argued in their report last year that the Bill needs to be strengthened in some areas to truly protect the rights of people detained under the Act.

Mencap says Mental Health Act reform is an essential part of addressing the inappropriate detention of people with a learning disability and autistic people, and the government’s failure to act is a sign it is not committed to reform.

Government should be ‘acting with urgency’

Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at learning disability charity Mencap, said the Mental Health Bill contains some important recommendations and it is “unacceptable” that the government has not yet responded.

“The government’s radio silence speaks volumes about their lack of commitment to deliver on their manifesto commitment of reforming the Mental Health Act and how much they have forgotten people with a learning disability and / or autistic people trapped in mental health units,” he said.

“There has already been an outcry that the government didn’t announce the Bill in The King’s Speech and this is further proof this issue is not on their list of priorities.

“The government should be acting with urgency to adequately fund the right community support, including the right social care and suitable housing, and change mental health legislation to bring an end to this scandal,” Mr Scorer added.

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