NPF’s involvement in the Mental Health Act 2007

More about the MENTAL HEALTH ACT

Dear Perceptions

I write in response to William Morton’s letter in the last issue regarding the new powers for compulsorily treating people with mental illness in the community. Unfortunately, these powers became law last year as part of the Mental Health Act 2007 and the implementation of this law begins in October this year.

The National Perceptions Forum did indeed campaign against the government’s plans for a new mental health act. The “consultation” process began in 1998 and in the following years we sent in detailed written submissions to the government at every stage of this “consultation” process in opposition to the government’s proposals. We also became an active member of the Mental Health Alliance which was formed to oppose the government’s most draconian proposals and also attempt to shape a better mental health act fit for the 21st century, since many people felt that the 1983 act was now out of date.

The MHA still exists and has members across the whole spectrum within mental health: professional bodies (at the time of the main campaign) included the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Nursing and British Psychological Society. Almost all major mental health charities are members including Rethink and Mind, who also both put in significant financial resources and staff time. Several user groups are members including UKAN and ourselves as well as many service users who assist as individuals. The Law Society also made a significant contribution providing technical expertise and staff time.

It is worth pointing out that the MHA did succeed in stalling the passing of this new act for several years because the government rather cynically indicated they wanted some form of consensus with MHA – but unfortunately what this actually meant was convincing the MHA to come on board. In the end, since the MHA largely stood firm the government simply forced through the act using their significant parliamentary majority.

It should be noted that both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats supported the MHA throughout and even managed to water down, using formal amendments, a few of the worst aspects of the bill during the parliamentary process. For example, the conditions that have to be met before putting someone on a community treatment order were made slightly more stringent. NPF may have helped influence this as a quote from our final submission that explained how counter-productive community treatment orders would be was read out in the House of Commons by a shadow health minister. However, the new law is still very oppressive and some people have commented that it is the most draconian mental health act in the western world.

Amy Ford
NPF’s co-ordinator of campaign against the new mental health act