Last reviewed 29 June 2022

The Government has published its Draft Mental Health Bill, setting out wide-reaching reform to the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) to ensure greater choice and autonomy for patients in a mental health crisis, speed up access to treatment, enshrine important protections for vulnerable people and ensure prisons are not used as an alternative to hospital treatment.

The reform adds statutory weight to patients’ rights to be involved with planning for their care and to make choices and refusals regarding the treatment they receive, and aim to:

  • better meet the needs of people with a learning disability and autistic people

  • tackle the racial disparities in mental health services

  • ensure appropriate care for people with serious mental illness within the criminal justice system.

The Bill sets out that neither learning disability nor autism should be considered reasons for detaining someone for treatment under section 3 of the MHA. Instead, they will only be detained for treatment if a mental health condition is identified by clinicians. And where there is no co-occurring mental health condition, the detention of this group of people under the MHA will be limited to 28 days.

Police stations and prisons will no longer be considered to be places of safety under the MHA, ensuring people experiencing a mental health crisis or with severe mental health needs are supported in an appropriate setting.

Schedule 3 contains amendments relating to independent mental health advocates, including amendments that provide for informal patients to qualify for help from independent mental health advocates and new duties on hospital managers and others to notify providers of advocacy services about qualifying patients.

The draft legislation is intended to give effect to the policy approaches outlined in Sir Simon Wessely’s independent review in 2018. These were subsequently taken forward in the Government’s White Paper on Reforming the Mental Health Act in 2021.

The draft Bill will go through pre-legislative scrutiny before the Government publishes a final version.