Ensuring that people detained in hospital get better care: changes to the Mental Health Act Code of Practice

Helplines who support people who face being detained due to their mental health, and their carers and families, may find some parts of the new code of interest. 

The Code of Practice for the Mental Health Act 1983 is important; it sets out how people, particularly those detained under the Mental Health Act, and their families should be treated. In 2012-13, there were more than 45,000 detentions in hospital in England of people who are very unwell, and the Code protects patients’ rights, informs health practitioners’ decisions and ensures that the Mental Health Act is followed. The Code guides people who are detained or treated under the Act, their families and carers about care and support available during a crisis, and what to do if it isn’t received.

The new Code, developed with input from service users and currently out for consultation has 5 new guiding principles.  Empowerment and participation aims to ensure that patients, families and carers are fully involved in decisions. There are new themes of choosing the least restrictive options and giving patients and families more respect and dignity. Decisions about care must be appropriate for the patient and in line with national guidelines and standards and more efforts will be made to ensure that physical health and social care needs are addressed along with Mental Health needs.

There is a significantly updated chapter on how to support children and young people, and guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion and the use of police powers and places of safety.

Helplines Partnership welcomes the revised Code, particularly as there are significant concerns that the previous Code has been inconsistently applied, misunderstood or ignored. Our view is that there has to be an appropriate mechanism to ensure that hospitals and other places where people are receiving treatment are following the principles in the new code, ideally through inspections.

We are also particularly interested in new proposals strengthening the rights for individuals to meet with or speak privately on the telephone with anyone they wish, as long as there aren’t other factors in place that would mean that access should be restricted due to clinical or security grounds, or to protect the human rights of other people. One of many disturbing element of the Winterbourne View report was that patients at the facility were not able to speak privately to their families and others on the phone or online.

Helplines Partnership feels that people who are detained in hospitals under the Mental Health Act should be able to access support from helplines unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. We also think that this should apply to other forms of communication such as email, and not be limited to the phone.

The consultation is running to 12th September 2014, and Helplines Partnership will be submitting a response. If you have any views that you would like to be included within our response please

Email us

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