Dr Lade Smith CBE, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said in a statement on the RCP website:
“As feared, reform of the Mental Health Act was not included in the King’s speech – which means it will not be achieved before the next General Election, despite being promised by this Government in its last manifesto.
“We have seen no action from Government to tackle the underlying causes of rising detentions under the Mental Health Act. These continue to rise at an unacceptable rate, with people from Black and racialised communities facing hugely disproportionate rates of detention.
“In the absence of this vital reform, the College will continue to work with Government, NHS and patient groups to promote the dignity, autonomy and human rights of people subject to the Act, while also pushing for the legislation to be introduced at the earliest opportunity.
Government has also failed to move forward any plans to ban conversion practices for LGBTQ+ people. Conversion practices can cause severe physical and psychological suffering and violate the human rights of LGBTQ+ people. Legislation must be introduced to address this as a matter of urgency.”
Dr Smith did however note that despite the disappointment of the exclusion of the reform of the mental health act, there were some positives for mental health in the speech.
“Given the enormous negative impact on mental health, we welcome the focus on easing the cost-of-living crisis, increasing economic growth and safeguarding the health and security of the British people.
“There are 1.35million people out of work with a mental illness and a record 1.4 million people are now on waiting lists for NHS mental health services. Seventy-five percent of mental illness arise before the age of 24-years. Much of this is avoidable and can be effectively treated if caught early.”
So why wasn’t the reform of the mental health act included in the speech?
The simple answer is the current Government do not view improving mental health care as a key priority. This de-prioritisation of mental health is reflected not only in allowing the progress of the Draft Mental Health bill (The law which will reform the existing mental health act) to stall on its way through Parliament and not including any mention of it in the King’s speech. But also in a policy change made earlier this year.
In January, the government announced that the long awaited 10-year mental health strategy was being abandoned and instead replaced with a broader ‘Major conditions strategy’. This new strategy, which has yet to be implemented, included ‘mental illness’ as a broad term alongside other more specific physical health issues such as cancer, heart disease and respiratory issues.
It is also likely that with only a year or so left of his current term in office, Rishi Sunak has wanted to focus on ‘quick wins’. On legislation and policies that he knows he can implement quickly before the election. But not pushing forward the reform of the mental health act, which has cross party support, and for which all of the hard work has already been done, he and his government are missing an opportunity to create real, tangible change for the 1 in 4 people impacted by mental illness.
This is why MQ is joining the call from the Centre for Mental Health and 35 other charities for all political parties to include mental health as a key priority in their election manifestos to create a mentally healthier nation. Read more here.