Today the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill – also known as Seni’s law - has received Royal Assent, and has become an Act.
The Bill was proposed by Steve Reed - MP for Croydon North - following the devastating death of his constituent Seni Lewis in 2010. Seni died at just 23, after being restrained on a mental health ward by 11 police officers. At the inquest into Seni’s death, the restraint used was deemed to be excessive, unreasonable and disproportionate. Seni's family have campaigned tirelessly over many years to change the law around the use of force, and thousands of Mind campaigners urged their MPs to get behind the Bill. Now finally all the hard work has paid off.
We know that using force to control someone’s behaviour when they are unwell can be a humiliating and traumatising experience, so this is great news for those of us who may experience a mental health crisis. Mind first exposed the widespread use of face-down restraint in their report ‘Mental health crisis care: Physical restraint in crisis’ in 2013.
The new law will mean:
- Mental health hospitals must actively take steps to reduce the use of force against patients, including by providing better training on managing difficult situations.
- Better data will now have to be collected, which will enable us to keep an eye on progress and highlight any problem areas.
- Police will need to wear body cameras when called to mental health settings, which can be used in evidence.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
“We’re delighted that today the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill 2018 receives Royal Assent and becomes an Act – meaning it is enshrined in law. This is a landmark step to improve the safety of people experiencing a mental health crisis.
“Being restrained is not just humiliating and dehumanising, it can be life threatening. That’s why we’ve long been calling for an end to these practices, especially face down restraint. This law will reduce the use of force and help improve the safety of people experiencing a mental health crisis. It has the potential to put an end to any more devastating and inexcusable deaths, like Seni’s, which should never have happened in the first place. When someone is having a mental health crisis they may be suicidal, self-harming or in psychosis, feeling very frightened or distressed. No matter what happens, at the very least, their loved ones should be able to trust that they will be kept safe, treated with dignity, care and compassion. People need help, not harm.
“We know there are also wider issues which disproportionately affect some people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. In the last ten years in England, we’ve seen a 47 per cent rise in the Mental Health Act being used to detain people. It’s appalling that people from some BAME backgrounds are still much more likely to be sectioned than those from white backgrounds, for example. The increase in detentions demonstrates that the Act, and wider mental health care, fails to support people when they are acutely unwell, especially people from BAME communities. This law marks a significant step forward in limiting the use of force and tackling the inequalities still embedded in today’s mental health care.
"Seni’s Law demonstrates the commitment of Seni’s family, who have continued to fight to bring about long overdue change. We want to extend our thanks to Steve Reed MP for spearheading such an important Bill, and are proud to have worked alongside our sector colleagues and over 1,000 Mind campaigners to help drive this forward into law. We won’t stop campaigning on this issue until there is no risk of further harm for anyone in a mental health crisis.”