Ministers urged to end delay on law curbing restraint on mental health patients

Ministers are being urged to finally implement legislation restricting the use of dangerous restraint practices against patients in mental health units two years after it was passed.

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Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

Labour, two former mental health ministers and the bosses of charities have demanded an end to the “unusually long wait” for the groundbreaking laws to be introduced.

They have written to Nadine Dorries, the mental health minister, asking her to halt the unexplained delay in the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 coming into force. New legislation usually takes effect within a few weeks of gaining parliamentary approval.

Mental health experts, the police and politicians on all sides welcomed the legislation when parliament passed it in 2018. It was intended to curb the use of forms of restraint that led to trauma, serious injuries and deaths among people with mental health problems.

Young black men have been disproportionately subjected to the controversial and violent restraint techniques, evidence shows. The legislation is commonly known as “Seni’s law” after Olaseni Lewis, a 23-year-old black man, died in the Bethlem Royal psychiatric hospital in London in September after being restrained by 11 police officers.

© Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA
The group wrote to the Nadine Dorries, the mental health minister, asking her to end the delay in the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 coming into force.

An inquest into his death heard how the graduate, who had no history of mental illness, died face-down in the unit after police handcuffed his hands behind his back, put his legs in shackles and took it in turns to sit on him. He had a heart attack, went into a coma and died.

“The use of force against people with mental ill-health is a national scandal,” said Steve Reed, Labour’s shadow communities secretary, who was Lewis’s MPin Croydon North. He took the legislation through the House of Commons as a private member’s bill.

“Parliament passed legislation to end these abuses against mental health patients, but two years later it still hasn’t come into force because the government has failed to trigger it.

“If the government truly cares about mental health patients’ safety then ministers must bring Seni’s law into force without further delay,” Reed added.

Lewis’s parents, Aji and Conrad, signed the letter, as have the Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price, a mental health minister under Theresa May, and Sir Norman Lamb, the ex-Liberal Democrat minister for mental health in the coalition government in 2012-15.

Other signatories include Prof Sir Simon Wessely, an ex-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists who undertook a review of the Mental Health Act for May’s government, and Paul Farmer, the chief executive of the charity Mind, who chaired an NHS taskforce into mental health.

The legislation requires psychiatric units to reduce and record the use of restraint against patients and to train their staff to use de-escalation techniques instead to defuse difficult situations.

The letter comes weeks after the bosses of mental health trusts in England accused Boris Johnson’s government of “structural discrimination” against, and lack of interest in, mental health after years of progress under previous administrations.

The Department of Health and Social Care did not explain the delay. It said that it would be seeking views on statutory guidance for the legislation, suggesting that it would be enacted.

A spokesman said: “Treating and caring for people in a safe, compassionate environment is essential and the government was fully supportive throughout the passage of the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act and is committed to publishing statutory guidance on the Act for consultation as soon as possible”.

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