Changing Learning, Changing Lives

16 May 2022

New law could make it harder to detain people with learning disabilities and Autism under MHA

A new draft Bill to reform the Mental Health Act (MHA) will be consulted on by MPs, the government announced last week. 

The purpose of the Bill will be to ensure that people with mental health conditions have greater control over their treatment and make it easier for people with a learning disability and autistic people to be discharged from hospital. 

To do this, the term ‘mental disorder’ will be redefined. Currently, autism is classed as a “mental disorder” under the Act, and anyone with a learning disability can be detained is they present with “abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct”. 

While current laws allow treatment to be imposed on patients against their wishes, the draft bill will allow them to voice a preference or refuse a specific treatment where a suitable alternative is available. 

The draft legislation also includes proposals to rebalance the threshold for detention – by ensuring that decisions must balance risk to the public and therapeutic benefit to the patient – and ensuring that all patients receive a timely plan on care and the route to their discharge. 

It also proposes reducing the use of community treatment orders, which mean people remain supervised in their community and can be sent back to hospital, and which can include restrictions such as where a person has to live. 

Boris Johnson said: “Our mental health laws are antiquated. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity, and it is our duty to ensure the rights and freedoms of our most vulnerable in society are protected and respected.” 

Downing Street said the reforms would help tackle disparities and reduce the number of people from minority ethnic backgrounds, in particular black African-Caribbean communities, detained under the act. 

The proposed reforms have been welcomed by disability charities and organisations, but campaigners say they are long overdue and action must be urgently taken to ensure community care is available to those who no longer need to be in hospital. 

The Baked Bean Charity’s CEO, Sarah Gentles, said “We feel that Autism should never be classed as a mental disorder, so we really support the news that a new mental health law would make it harder to detain those whole fall into this group. We’re looking forward to seeing the outcome of this reform.”