How Scotlands Mental Health Law Review can transform lives by The Mental Welfare Commission

On this day, the Mental Welfare Commission seeks to highlight the strong link between the Recover Better message and the current review of Scotland’s Mental Health Act – which the Commission sees as a major opportunity to ensure that the human rights of people with mental illness, learning disability, dementia and related conditions are clearly at the centre of future laws and protections.

Sandy Riddell, chair, Mental Welfare Commission, said:

“In a year when people across the world have experienced personal and economic hardships due to the pandemic, the 2020 Human Rights Day theme of Recover Better could not be more apt.

“The UN highlights the need to ensure that human rights are central to recovery efforts, and also asks that we use the day to bolster transformative action.

“The Commission is currently analysing the impact of pandemic restrictions on areas of care and treatment, and will publish our findings.

“But we also see the message of recovering better in the context of a core piece of work that is currently underway in Scotland– the Review of the Mental Health Act.

“This review is a major opportunity to truly reform and update our legislation with the focus on putting individuals’ human rights at every stage of their care and treatment.”
The Commission published its views of priority areas for change in May this year (key points below), and looks forward to developing these further with the review team in 2021.

Key points

– Scotland’s health and social care systems are substantially different from those that were in place in 2003 when the current Mental Health Act was passed by parliament. The new Act needs to take account of these changes.

– People are more likely to be treated in the community, rather than in hospital, and the resources, support and care available in the community should be reviewed. We raise specific points in our response for those who are detained under the Act and also for those who are not detained but may need specific care such as children and young people, people with a diagnosis of personality disorder and perinatal mental health services.

– The number of people being detained under the current Act rises every year. In order to make the right decisions for the future, the review needs to analyse, at an early stage, why this is happening.

– The lengths of time people are detained, and the safeguards in place when they are detained, should be examined. We find that many detentions run for the maximum length of time allowed by the law, and those lengths of time have not changed for decades.

– The review should take account of developments in international law to ensure we can learn from other nations and should incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

– While reviewing the Act is vital, it will only be effective if mental health services are adequately resourced. We ask that resources are considered at all key stages of the review.

From a lived experience and relative/carer’s perspective, issues include:

– The current Act is clear about professionals’ roles, and detained patients’ rights; it provides safeguards and guidelines. However it does not work for everyone who has mental health issues but who is not subject to the law; those people do not have the protections the Act offers.

– Resources are scarce, the lack of community support often leaves families trying to support the individual with limited knowledge and resources of their own.

– Children and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHS) are stretched to the limit. While much work is being done in education services related to mental health and well-being, the systems for supporting a young person with a serious mental illness are unwieldy and inefficient, if present at all.

– GPs sometimes struggle to get help for individuals with mental health issues often because of the lack of resource available to community mental health teams. Better communication between primary and secondary care and more seamless access to assessment would greatly improve the management of these individuals’ support needs in the community.
– This legislation is complex, and our response addresses many more issues. We encourage audiences to read it in full and ask us for further clarity or information.

The full Commission response to the consultation can be read here.

The Commission has a statutory duty to monitor the use of the Act, and a duty to provide advice on the use of the Act.

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