What are the emergency changes to the Mental Health Act in response to the COVID 19?
Emergency legislation has been introduced to Parliament which includes temporary measures to change the Mental Health Act. This is because the government is concerned that COVID-19 will reduce the available number of mental health professionals to help people's mental health, placing them at risk.
These measures were fast-tracked through Parliament and are expected to be reviewed within 6 months. The powers this emergency legislation brings in can be switched on or off by each of the four UK governments, based on staffing levels and the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak.
To understand the changes, it is important to know what the powers are used for. For each power, a clinician must have assessed you as having a mental disorder or a police-person thinks you may have a mental disorder.
You can be forcibly detained under section 2. If you need to be detained for a short time for assessment and possibly medical treatment, and it is necessary for your own health or safety or for the protection of other people.
You can be forcibly detained and treated under section 3. If treatment can't be given unless you are detained in hospital. You cannot be sectioned under this section unless the medical professionals also agree that appropriate treatment is available for you.
You can be forcibly taken to a place of safety by the police under section 136. If you are "in need of immediate care or control", you will be kept in the place of safety you were taken to so that you can be examined by a Doctor and interviewed by an approved mental health professional, and any necessary arrangements can be made for your treatment or care.
Why do we have such legislation?
Many people go voluntarily to a psychiatric ward, however, some for various reasons do not. The most important reason to section someone is to prevent people who are overwhelmed by painful feelings completing suicide. One in five of us that live in England have suicidal thoughts in their lifetime. When someone feels the pain is unbearable and the only solution to be rid of that pain is to complete suicide, that's the time to alert emergency services. Many lives have been saved by using sectioning powers, but some people feel it takes away our civil liberty.
COVID-19 has placed enormous pressure on the entire health and care system, including the mental health sector. The Coronavirus Act 2020, which recently passed through Parliament in record time, includes amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983.
Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, and Dr. Phil Moore, chair of NHSCC's Mental Health Commissioners Network, accept the amendments will assist clinicians during this period but have expressed some concerns about the impact they may have on patient safeguards.
What are the changes being made to the Mental Health Act 1983?
Changes to the number of doctors required to detain you under the Mental Health Act for assessment and treatment. Usually, 3 people have to agree that you need to be detained. These are normally an approved mental health professional (AMHP) and 2 Doctors. Under the new legislation, the number of doctors has been reduced to 1.
Changes to Police holding powers. You can usually be held for an initial period of up to 24 hours, which can be extended for a maximum of another 12 hours. The person can only be held after that time if a full Mental Health Act assessment is done, and professionals agree to further detain the patient. This will usually be under sections 2 and 3 of the Mental Health Act. The change to this legislation means that you can be held for an initial period of up to 36 hours, this can be extended for a maximum of another 12 hours.