Assembly Government Measure for Mental Health on the Cards?

Negotiations to form a coalition Assembly Government could result in new mental health legislation for Wales.

Detailed negotiations on a possible deal between the parties began late this week. Part of that deal could be to introduce legislation on mental health that will create the equivalent of a Mental Health Act for Wales.

This means that a coalition Assembly Government could take forward a Legislative Competence Order (LCO) under the new Government of Wales Act to seek powers to create an Assembly Measure (Welsh law) on mental health…

Below: Mental Health Act or Mental Health Measure?

Welsh mental health charity Hafal has long been pressing for Welsh mental health legislation both publicly and in its contacts with AMs. This week Chief Executive Bill Walden-Jones wrote to Health and Social Services Minister Edwina Hart AM to express the wish of people with severe mental illness in Wales and their carers for Wales-specific laws.

Earlier this week during the Questions to the First Minister session at the Senedd, Jonathan Morgan AM also raised Hafal’s concerns about the UK Mental Health Bill, and asked if the Assembly Government would take a different approach for mental health patients and their families. At that point the First Minister, while expressing sympathy with the idea, raised concerns about how undevolved aspects of legislation could be disentangled.

Today Bill Walden-Jones, Chief Executive of Hafal, said: “We would welcome a Mental Health Measure for Wales – Scotland has his own Mental Health Act after all – and we would welcome an opportunity for the Assembly to develop legislation that meets the needs of service users in Wales.

“The Mental Health Bill currently making its way through Parliament is simply not compatible with Welsh services. Its focus on compulsion – and omission of a basic entitlement to timely treatment – means that it does not sit well with Assembly Government policy which places emphasis on patient rights.

“A Mental Health Measure for Wales would give the Assembly Government the opportunity to learn from the mistakes made by the UK Government in developing the Mental Health Bill, and to create a Measure that would improve the service delivered to mental health patients in Wales. Obviously our Members – people with severe mental illness and their families – would want to be closely involved in this process.”

UK Mental Health Bill Heads to Report Stage

On Wednesday the UK Government proposed new amendments to the Mental Health Bill before it reaches Report Stage next week (18th-19th June) – the final debate in the House of Commons before the Bill goes to ‘ping-pong’ between the two Houses.

The Government has announced that the amendments to the Bill, if passed, would mean that:

• within two years, no child under 16 years of age is treated on an adult ward and that all patients aged under 18 are placed in suitable settings

• statutory advocacy services would be introduced to support patients detained under the Mental Health Act and to champion their rights

• conditions could only be placed on a person who is on supervised community treatment (SCT) in order to ensure that they receive treatment to prevent the risk of harm to their health or safety, or to protect other people.

These amendments address some of the issues raised either in the House of Lords or Committee stage in the House of Commons.

Announcing the amendments Health Minister Rosie Winterton said:

“We have had productive discussions with members of the House of Lords, House of Commons and with stakeholders, and have listened to their views and concerns. We have worked closely together to strengthen the Bill, and with these amendments, I feel that we have got the balance right.”

However, while welcoming some of the introduced amendments, campaigners feel that more could have been proposed to create a fairer Bill.

Bill Walden-Jones, Chief Executive of Welsh mental health charity Hafal, said: “The glaring omission is a right to early treatment. This would balance the focus on compulsion in the Bill, and if put into practice, would often prevent the need for compulsion to be used at all.”

Andy Bell, Chairman of the Mental Health Alliance, said: “There remain some very serious concerns about the Bill. We are especially concerned that too many people will be liable to be put on community treatment orders.”

Last week six Labour MPs tabled an important amendment Bill that could make significant progress towards preventing patients from receiving treatment where it has no therapeutic benefit.

They included two Welsh MPs, Chris Bryant and Madeleine Moon, who have previously met Hafal to discuss patients’ and families’ concerns about the Mental Health Bill.

The wording of the amendment makes it clear that any mention of medical treatment in the new mental health legislation must refer “to treatment the purpose of which is to alleviate or prevent a worsening of the disorder, its symptoms or manifestations.”

Mental health campaigners including Hafal have argued that the ‘appropriate treatment’ test proposed by the Government is too vague and that if a person is detained for treatment, that treatment must provide a therapeutic benefit to the individual.

For the latest developments on the Mental Health Bill, or the possible Mental Health Measure, keep checking