for better mental health

Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act

The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill received Royal Assent on 1 November 2018. This means that it has now become an Act.

This is also known as "Seni's Law" after Olaseni Lewis who tragically died aged 23, after being restrained on a mental health ward by police officers. At the inquest the restraint used was deemed to be excessive, unreasonable and disproportionate.

Because of the new law, each mental health unit will have to publish a policy to set out what steps will be taken to reduce the use of force by staff who work in that unit.

They must publish information about patients' rights in relation to the use of force.

The units must provide training for staff which includes:

  • showing respect for patients' past and present wishes and feelings
  • avoiding unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • the use of techniques for avoiding or reducing the use of force
  • the risks associated with the use of force
  • the impact of trauma and force (whether historic or otherwise) on a patient's mental and physical health

Each mental health unit must keep a record of any use of force by staff who work in that unit where the use of force is not "negligible". Some of the information that must be included is:

  • the place, date, duration and reason for the use of force
  • the type or types of force used on the patient
  • the name and job title of any member of staff who used force on the patient
  • the reason any person who was not a member of staff in the mental health unit was involved in the use of force on the patient
  • the patient's mental disorder and if they have a learning disability or autistic spectrum disorders
  • the relevant characteristics of the patient for example race, whether pregnant or sexual orientation
  • the outcome of the use of force
  • any efforts made to avoid the need to use force on the patient

At the end of each year the Secretary of State must ensure that statistics relating to the records collected are analysed and published.

Importantly, if a police officer is going to a mental health unit to help staff the officer must take a body camera.

Comment

We are very pleased that this bill has come into force. We have been campaigning against restraint for several years and there has been progress but not enough. When someone is in crisis they need care not to be restrained.

We are concerned about the exclusion of "negligible" incidents of use of force. This is going to be defined in guidance so we don't know what this means yet. This undermines the purpose of the Act which is to promote transparency. We know that despite guidance, it will be open to interpretation and very subjective. There may be situations where there are lots of smaller uses of forces which are not recorded because they are negligible but have an equally negative effect.

Restraint was used over three times more often on Black and Black British people than it was on White people in 2016/17. [1] This law is a massive step forward in limiting the use of force and tackling the inequalities still embedded in today's mental health care.

We hope by improving transparency and accountability that the numbers of incidents will reduce and that this will have a positive impact on black and minority ethnic communities.

[1] https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-bulletin/mental-health-bulletin-2016-17-annual-report

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