Yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May announced she has asked Professor Sir Simon Wessely to lead a review of the Mental Health Act 1983 and to report back by Autumn 2018 on what a new Mental Health Act may look like. Sir Simon is a psychiatrist by background, professor of psychological medicine (especially working with our military) at the Institute of Psychiatry and Psychology, King’s College, London and he is the previous President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He is now the President of the Royal Society of Medicine, the first psychiatrist to hold that position and you can follow him on Twitter (see image, above) if you want to keep up to date with the MHA review, the progress of Chelsea FC and his various cycling holidays!
One or two comments on Twitter yesterday about the wisdom of appointing a doctor as the lead of a review of our laws: it hadn’t occurred to me to worry because having known Professor Wessely a few years, it seemed obvious to me one of the first things he’ll probably do is surround himself with the best people he can find to offering necessary perspectives, from mental health and capacity lawyers of various sorts, to patients and their families as well as the professionals of all kinds who operate the Mental Health Act in everyday life. I hope I’m right!
The UK Government have set out terms of reference for Sir Simon’s review and by way of some background to all of this, I was reminded of a blog post by Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health which explains a lot of the current issues and problems as our laws and our public service realities come in to tension and conflict.
Anyone who has read my BLOG before will know there are many pieces on this site which highlight operational problems connected to the police and I already know that Sir Simon has asked to speak to Chief Constable Mark Collins, the NPCC lead on mental health, so I’m guessing that’s the start of a conversation about how the police interface with the MHA in our various circumstances.
This thing will have a different impact in Wales to that in England, because the review relates to England and to those matters not devolved in Wales. The health system and its legislation is devolved in Wales, but not everything in the Mental Health Act relates to the health system: apart from the obvious police powers, all of Part III of the MHA relates to the operation of the courts and criminal justice system and policing and justice matters are not devolved – as if this wasn’t complicated enough!
This post will be short: it’s just to set out what’s going on and provide some links if you’re interested in reading them. But I also want to post some questions, whether you are a police officer a member of the public with whatever perspective on the issues or whether you’re another kind of professional. Ask yourself, what problems do you encounter with the Act, especially where it relates to the police and what would you want Sir Simon’s review to take account of when forming opinions for recommendations in a year’s time? Please feel free to leave a comment below – don’t do it on Twitter of Facebook, as the comments will inevitably be hard to gather, if they’re all below, they’re in one place and NPCC can then make sure that when we’re asked for any opinion, we can represent the views of police officers in our response. A few of my own thoughts, having had 12hrs to think about this, most of which was spent asleep!
I’ve actually got a much longer list than this, but that will do just to give some examples. Mental health campaigner Mark Brown wrote a very interesting opinion piece in the Guardian yesterday, encouraging a bolder, more positive vision and that’s also worth a read. Have a think: leave a comment. If you don’t, we can’t consider what to say to Sir Simon if / when he comes knocking on the door for a police perspective on the issues and challenges ahead.
Regardless of anything else: this is quite a task ahead and I can only wish Sir Simon the very best of luck with it! Attempts have been made in the UK to review and replace the Mental Health Act and they failed miserably amidst big debates about what the purpose of our mental health laws should be. The Mental Health Act 2007, which largely just manned and updated our two main legal frameworks (the 1983 MHA; and the 2005 MCA) and that was a compromise after the Mental health Bill 2004 failed to make its way through Parliament. That legislation incidentally, included scope for a s136 type power in private premises, which I note purely as an historical curiosity.
The task is huge and important – very best of luck Simon!
Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.