Proposed government reforms to the Mental Health Act aim to provide people with more control over their care and recognise an inpatient setting is often not the best place for those with a learning disability or autism.
Under plans, neither learning disability nor autism should be considered a mental disorder for which someone can be detained for treatment under section 3 of the act. Instead, those with a learning disability or autistic people could only be detained for treatment if a co-occurring mental health condition is identified by clinicians.
The government established a £62m grant in July to help with the discharge of people with learning disabilities and autism from inpatient care. Proposed changes in the legislation aim to help to further reduce reliance on such care, it said.
The plans have been set out in a white paper, which builds on the recommendations made by Sir Simon Wessely’s Independent Review of the Mental Health Act in 2018.
‘We welcome these proposals to reform the Mental Health Act so that people with a learning disability and/or autism cannot be detained if they do not have a mental health condition,’ Dan Scorer, head of policy and external affairs at Mencap, said. ‘Currently, thousands of children and adults are locked away in modern day asylums even when they do not have a treatable mental health condition.’
Last year, the charity said a lack of social care and housing was leading to people with a learning disability or autism unable to be discharged into community settings.
Scorer said it was right to develop community support, but this needed to be properly funded and ‘not left to cash-strapped local authorities who are already struggling to fund social care’.
He said: ‘The government also needs to commit funding to develop the right housing and social care support to truly transform care and close inpatient beds for good. People with a learning disability have a right to live in their own homes, not in hospitals.’
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: ‘The challenges with the current act are also indicative of a system that is under strain because of increased demand and reduced funding. Any reform of the Mental Health Act needs to include ongoing funding for councils’ mental health services, so they can continue to invest in effective support to meet existing, new and unmet demand.’
Reforms also aim to tackle racial disparities in mental health services and ensure appropriate care for people with serious mental illness within the criminal justice system.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This is a significant moment in how we support those with serious mental health issues, which will give people more autonomy over their care and will tackle disparities for all who access services, in particular for people from minority ethnic backgrounds.’
For changes which require legislation, consultations will continue until early spring to listen to the concerns people have, and a draft Mental Health Bill will be shared next year.