Wales Alliance for Mental Health argues for Welsh legislation

The Wales Alliance for Mental Health has issued its position statement on mental health legislation for Wales.

The Alliance, which provides the collective voice of the Wales-wide voluntary organisations working in the field of mental health, says recent improvements made to the Mental Health Bill on its passage through Parliament are to be welcomed.

But the Bill remains deeply flawed, particularly as a lost opportunity to develop rights for patients which could both promote recovery and enhance safety for all, the Alliance adds.

The position statement makes the case for mental health legislation to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government, pointing out that mental health care is already devolved to Wales – not only the delivery of services but long-term strategic policy.

“The Welsh Assembly Government is the body with whom patients, families and the public have the relationship on mental health issues – it is not practicable for patients, families and carers to have a meaningful relationship with the Department of Health in England,” the Alliance says.

“The Alliance has realistic expectations of Welsh legislation on mental health, recognising that the historical legislative and service-delivery ties between England and Wales mean that abrupt change would be inappropriate,” the statement continues.

“It is accepted that practical aspect of legislation would need to use as a starting point the 1983 Mental Health Act and include consideration of the current Bill and other relevant European legislation and standards.

“However, the Alliance is seeking legislation based on a compact between patients and families, the Assembly Government, and the wider public which creates the principle of rights to care and treatment balanced by compulsion as a last resort.”

The Wales Alliance points out that when the Scottish Parliament addressed the issue of mental health legislation, there was evidently common purpose between the Executive, patients and carers, and the general public to develop law sensitive to all these groups, including a right to assessment.

The position statement goes on to note that the Secretary of State for Wales has said that decisions to devolve legislation under the Government of Wales Act 2006 would respond to what was in Assembly election manifestos – and that three out of the four main parties stated in their election manifestos this year that they were committed to devolved mental health legislation.

“In addition, the minority Assembly Government has since itself decided to pursue devolved mental health legislation: there is therefore all-party agreement on this,” the statement adds, referring to last week’s announcement by Health Minister Edwina Hart that she will set up a cross-party working party to seek an Assembly Measure (Welsh law) on mental health.