Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 receives Royal Assent

The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill received Royal Assent on 1 November 2018 and became an Act.

Executive summary 

The purpose of the Act is to increase the oversight and management of the use of force in mental health units by imposing a number of requirements around the use of force in such units. It also provides for police officers attending these units to wear and operate body cameras if reasonably practicable. A date has yet to be set for the Act to be implemented.
 

In detail

The Bill was inspired by Olaseni Lewis, who died on 4 September 2010 after he was restrained by 11 police officers at a mental health ward in Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham. At an inquest into his death in 2017, the restraint which had been used was deemed to be “excessive, unreasonable and disproportionate” whilst the actions of both police and healthcare staff were condemned.

The new legislation features a number of key provisions: 

  • All mental health units will need to appoint a ‘responsible person’ for the purposes of the Act. This person needs to be employed by the unit and be of sufficient seniority.
  • The responsible person must publish a policy on the use of force by staff and also publish information for patients about their rights in relation to the use of force by staff.
  • Training must be provided to staff on the use of force.
  • Any use of force by a member of staff must be recorded (unless it is deemed to be ‘negligible’) and records kept for three years from the date of the event.
  • An annual report is to be published based on the records of the use of force.
  • Police officers attending a mental health unit in order to assist staff must take with them and wear a body camera if this is reasonably practicable.

Comment

The legislation is neither lengthy nor particularly complex but it’s purpose is clear and its provisions are specific. Given the background to the Act, it seems likely that it will be welcomed not just by those with relatives who are being treated in mental health units but also by care providers, raising awareness and understanding among both patients and staff and providing as it will a framework within which the use of force in these units can be controlled, monitored and regulated. The Act also requires the Secretary of State of Health & Social Care to conduct an annual review of any reports made under paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (prevention of further death/PFD reports) that were published during that year relating to the death of a patient as a result of the use of force in a mental health unit by staff who work in that unit. Ensuring appropriate action is taken following such incidents was in part considered in the September 2018 publication “Learning from suicide-related claims” by Professor Oates.

If you would like to hear from Dr Oates as well as representatives from HSIB and Weightmans mental health team on some of the challenges facing organisations caring for those with mental health issues, please sign up for the event on 26 November 2018.

To discuss any of the issues in this update please contact Morris Hill, Associate on 0151 242 7990 or email morris.hill@weightmans.com.

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