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Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018: Commencement

Volume 705: debated on Tuesday 7 December 2021

Today, I am delighted to announce the commencement of the majority of the provisions of the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018, and alongside this, the publication of:

the Government’s response to a public consultation on the draft statutory guidance; and

the revised statutory guidance, which has been reviewed considering the public consultation held earlier this year.

The provisions specified within the commencement regulations will be brought into force on 31 March 2022. This will allow reasonable time for mental health units to prepare for the new requirements the Act will place on them, and enable them to take account of the statutory guidance which is being published in advance of commencement, alongside the response to the recent public consultation on the statutory guidance.

The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 was introduced in the House of Commons by the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) in July 2017 and received Royal Assent in November 2018. The Act, also known as Seni’s Law, is named after Olaseni Lewis, who died as a result of being forcibly restrained by up to 11 police officers while he was a voluntary patient in a mental health unit. Seni was 23 at the time of his death, doing a postgraduate Masters in IT and business management at Kingston University and should have had his whole life ahead of him. Following their son’s death, Aji, Conrad and the Lewis family campaigned and fought for justice for their son, and the answers to what happened to him on that day. It took seven years before there was an inquest, which ruled:

“The excessive force, pain compliance techniques and multiple mechanical restraints were disproportionate and unreasonable”.

The Act aims to clearly set out the measures which are needed to both prevent the inappropriate use of force and ensure accountability and transparency about the use of force in mental health units, encouraging a human-rights, trauma-informed and person-centred approach to patient care. The statutory guidance sets out how we expect mental health units to meet the requirements of the Act. The requirements of the Act and the statutory guidance provide a much needed opportunity to embed a consistent approach across services nationally.

I believe that every individual has the right to be treated with dignity, in a caring therapeutic environment which is free from abuse. The use of force can sometimes be necessary to secure the safety of patients and staff. However, it is always accompanied by risk and can often be a traumatic experience for patients when they are most vulnerable and in need of compassionate care. For too long mental health services have relied on the use of force, with data showing the use force is at an all-time high.

This Act represents a vital step in efforts to reduce the use of force in mental health units, which affected over 13,000 individuals in 2020-21 and disproportionately those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

I am encouraged that this landmark piece of legislation enjoys the support of patients, people with lived experience, voluntary and charitable sector organisations and the NHS. Today’s commencement of the majority of the Act represents a significant step forward in our efforts to prevent the use of inappropriate force in mental health units, which would not have been possible without the tireless campaigning of the hon. Member for Croydon North, Aji and Conrad Lewis and their daughters Kemi and Lara. Aji Lewis, with the support of her family, continues to campaign to reduce the use of force and improve mental health services for all patients. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to meet Aji and hear her family’s and Seni’s story directly from her.

This is part of the Government’s wider reform agenda to improve support for individuals with severe mental illnesses. The Government published their Mental Health Act White Paper on 13 January 2021 which sets out proposals for once in a generation reforms to the Mental Health Act, responding to and building on the Independent Review of the Act, led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely’s. As part of this, NHS England and NHS Improvement has developed the Patient and Carers Race Equality Framework to support mental health services to improve the experience of care for people from ethnic minority backgrounds by increasing staff understanding of their racial and cultural differences.

We are also working hard to achieve our NHS long-term plan commitment to give 370,000 adults and older adults with severe mental illnesses greater choice and control over their care and support them to live well in their communities by 2023-24. Through this plan, we are also expanding services for people experiencing a mental health crisis including working towards 24/7 crisis resolution and home treatment services and investing in a range of local complementary and alternative crisis services. In addition, all NHS mental health providers have now established 24/7 all-age urgent mental health helplines for those experiencing a mental health crisis or those supporting them.