Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill passes Second Reading

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A change to the law that will increase transparency and accountability about the use of restrictive interventions, like physical restraint, in mental health services in England is one step closer after the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill passed its crucial Second Reading in the House of Commons on 3 November.

The Bill it will now go forward to the Committee stage where it can be amended before returning to the House of Commons and eventually the House of Lords for its final reading.

The Bill — also known as Seni’s Law, after Seni Lewis — is a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North. Lewis, a 23-year-old graduate, died after being restrained in Bethlem Royal mental health hospital in Croydon, London following a mental health episode. The coroner criticised the restraint which led to his death as ‘disproportionate and unreasonable’.

According to the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, 46 mental health patients died following restraint between 2000 and 2014.

The Bill aims to increase the oversight and management of the use of such force in mental health units. It also imposes requirements regarding the use of such force, and makes provision for deaths that occur during, or result from, the use of such force to be investigated.

It also makes provision for police officers to wear and operate body cameras when attending a mental health unit. Seni’s Law is backed by a wide range of organisations and individuals including the National Autistic Society (NAS) and the mental health charity YoungMinds UK.

The chief executives of 29 mental health organisations published a letter urging Parliament to back the Bill.

The NAS says it has campaigned in support of the Bill because ‘figures from NHS Digital show that people on the autism spectrum or with a learning disability, are at increased risk of being unnecessarily and frequently restrained or secluded in mental health settings.’

The Bill if passed will apply to services for both adults and children. Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs and Social Change at the NAS, said:

Today’s news, that the vote for Seni’s Law has passed second reading, is a big step forward for the safety of autistic children and adults in mental health inpatient units. Thank you to everyone that got behind this by emailing your MPs.

While this is definitely something to celebrate, it is certainly not the end. We will continue to campaign for the Bill to become law and to make sure that all autistic people feel safe if they ever need mental health care and are not traumatised by unnecessary restraint techniques.

Although Private Member’s Bills don’t often become law, campaigners are hopeful Seni’s Law will as it has cross-party support. Importantly, in the House of Common’s debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Jackie Doyle-Price MP, said:

The Government support the principles set out in the Bill, but we accept — as I think the honourable Member for Croydon North would — that there is still some work to do on the detail regarding the right mechanisms and processes. We can explore those matters in Committee and we are fully behind the Bill’s Second Reading.

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