Theresa May vows 'sweeping' reforms to mental health policy

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Theresa May has promised to tear up outdated mental health legislation in a bid to bring a halt to a trend which has seen growing numbers of vulnerable people unnecessarily detained in cells.

A Conservative government will make it an early priority following the June 8 general election to produce a new Mental Health Treatment Bill to replace the 1983 Mental Health Act, which is widely regarded as flawed, the Prime Minister said.

To back up the reforms, the party will commit to employing 10,000 more staff in NHS mental health services by 2020.

She promised to introduce "sweeping" reforms to the Equalities Act to prevent discrimination at work, by ensuring sufferers from intermittent conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are given the same protection currently granted to those with problems which have lasted over 12 months.

Shortfalls in mental health services were one of the "burning injustices" identified by Mrs May in her first speech as Prime Minister, outside the door of 10 Downing Street last July.

She said it was "abundantly clear" discriminatory use of the Mental Health Act was one of the factors behind the problems.

Numbers of people detained under the Act have increased by 43% over the past decade, with black people significantly more likely to be held in secure mental health wards.

A recent report by the Care Quality Commission said the Act contained "failings that may disempower patients, prevent people from exercising legal rights, and ultimately impede recovery or even amount to unlawful and unethical practice".

Mrs May said: "Today I am pledging to rip up the 1983 Act and introduce in its place a new law which finally confronts the discrimination and unnecessary detention that takes place too often."

She promised: "We are going to roll out mental health support to every school in the country, ensure that mental health is taken far more seriously in the workplace, and raise standards of care with 10,000 more mental health professionals working in the NHS by 2020.

"These reforms are a vital part of my plan to build a fairer society for all, not just the privileged few, and they demonstrate the positive difference that strong and stable leadership makes.

"Jeremy Corbyn is too weak, and his policies are too nonsensical, to help those who rely on our NHS and mental health services."

Under Mrs May's plans, children in schools in England and Wales will be taught more about mental well-being, especially in relation to keeping safe online and cyber-bullying.

Health and safety regulations will be updated to take account of risks to mental health as much as those to physical health.

Conservatives also committed to funding the Samaritans helpline through the next parliament, due to end in 2022, and to end charges for forms used by people in debt to prove their mental ill-health to creditors.

Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb dismissed the promises as "empty rhetoric".

"I'm sick and tired of great rhetoric from this Government about their commitment to mental health but the reality for families across our country is just so very different," Mr Lamb told the Press Association.

"How can we believe anything they say when they have made it clear today that they won't invest any more from extra taxation.

"It's meaningless rhetoric.

"Let's just make them make the investment that they committed to in 2015 in our children's mental health services."

The general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies, said: "Meaningful improvement to mental health care is always welcome but they will need to work hard just to get back to the number of specialist staff working in this area in 2010.

"Under this Government, there are 4,800 fewer mental health nurses and that goes some way to explaining why patients are being failed.

"For as long as parity of esteem between physical and mental health services remains rhetoric, this will not change.

"The NHS needs to see hard cash to deliver any plans."

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: "This is a major victory for all of us who have campaigned to recognise the enormous impact that mental ill-health has on individuals, families, and society as a whole."

She added: "What appears to be missing from this announcement are any plans to restore psychiatric units so that patients do not need to be sectioned in order to receive treatment, or be shunted hundreds of miles around the country to obtain one of the few available beds.

"We also question whether these measures will be sufficient to ensure that patients in the community receive far more adequate care.

"In order for Theresa May's ambitious vision for mental health reform to be realised, we need to guarantee that alongside the measures proposed, resources are placed in frontline services."