VODG responds to Reforming the Mental Health Act consultation

21 April 2021

VODG has today submitted a response to the Reforming the Mental Health Act consultation, which sought views on proposed changes to the Mental Health Act including amendments to how people with a learning disability and autistic people are supported under the Act.

The VODG submission focussed on aspects of the consultation most relevant to disability care and support providers and the people they support, including advocacy, community support, regulatory monitoring and how the Mental Health Act works for people with a learning disability and autistic people.

Key points raised in the submission included:

  • Despite the transformative nature of the proposals, there is significant uncertainty as to whether the commitments made in the White Paper will actually be taken forward. Without funding to support the policy ambitions, the opportunities for transformation will be marginal. It is also important to recognise that there are opportunities to maximise the effective use of resources in the sector. 
  • VODG strongly agrees with the proposed additional powers for independent mental health advocates (IMHAs) to help them carry out their functions more effectively and to provide greater support and representation to people detained under the act.
  • Advocacy services should be made ‘opt-out’ rather than the duty proposed, which states hospitals need to make people who use services, aware that advocacy services are available.
  • VODG welcomes the government’s commitment to reducing the reliance on specialist inpatient services for people with a learning disability and autistic people and to developing community alternatives. It is encouraging that the government acknowledges that people with a learning disability and autistic people have suffered from inappropriate detention.
  • VODG also welcomes the White Paper’s proposals to limit the scope, and make it harder, to detain people with a learning disability and/or autism under the act, including supporting the proposal that learning disability and autism are not considered mental ‘disorders’ warranting detention under Section 3.
  • It is essential that the availability of community alternatives is in place in order to prevent unintended consequences of this proposal.
  • VODG welcomes the inclusion of ‘therapeutic benefit’ as a measure against which treatment and detention have to be justified but that there needs to be clear definitions and consistent measures as to how benefit is evaluated and how a person is evaluated as ready for discharge.
  • It is imperative that across the system, professionals and the wider workforce supporting people with learning disabilities and autistic people have specialist learning disability and autism knowledge and robust government guidance is in place to support the implementation of any reforms.
  • Effective local authority and NHS commissioning is central to ensuring the provision of preventative, and post-discharge, community care and support.
  • Independent regulators, including the Care Quality Commission, should work together to monitor and oversee the implementation of the reform and to prepare statutory reports to parliament.

Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of VODG, said:

This consultation presents an opportunity to reform, update and move policy towards a more person-centred, rights-based approach through the implementation of the Mental Health Act.

While VODG recognises and supports the significance and importance of the reforms included in the White Paper, we remain concerned that these reforms are dependent on future funding decisions and, therefore, lack genuine commitment and impetus.

“The reforms must also be informed by professional expertise and the views of disabled people and their families. Without long-term funding to implement these reforms being earmarked upfront, and the voice of lived experience being at the forefront of service design, the risk is the ambitions of the White Paper will fall flat and meaningful change will not happen.”

VODG Media Centre