What do we want from our mental health services?
I want to be listened to.
I want my needs and concerns to be respected and my care to reflect this.
I want to know I will receive support and treatment from those best qualified to help me, even during unplanned or unexpected crises.
I want my rights to be honoured and to have faith in those who should know them better than me.
I want easy access to information and services to support and sustain my recovery.
This is not an unreasonable list of demands and I have heard these words – or at least variations of them – many times when visiting hospitals and other medical and care facilities across England. It’s why the current – and soon to close - Mental Health Act Code of Practice consultation is so important. Its findings will underpin the Act and strengthen the processes and culture we need to make sure patients are treated with dignity, honesty and respect.
These watchwords are running themes through all our recent mental health initiatives, from Closing the Gap: Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health and Transforming care: A national response to Winterbourne View, to the more recent launches of the Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat and the review of police powers of detention. This has always been about doing what is right for our most vulnerable citizens – putting their needs first.
There were more than 45,000 detentions in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 in 2012 to 2013. The Code of Practice should provide the framework under which these – and other actions - are taken in the interest of those with mental health problems. But the last update to the Code was in 2008. It is our duty and obligation to make sure it is still fit for purpose in 2014 – and beyond.
On the positive front, the consultation – and its supporting engagement events – has generated some truly inspiring tales of best practice. Service users, carers and professionals have spoken of their experiences navigating the complexities of the Mental Health Act – and how the Code has helped to better inform their decisions about care for themselves and others.
But we also know the Code has not been consistently administered - and in some areas of the health and care system there is a lack of understanding, which is totally unacceptable. We all have a duty of care to patients to make sure every avenue is explored to deliver the best treatment and support we can. The Code provides that focus and underlines our obligations.
This is another reason to engage with this consultation in the last few days. Your observations, views and suggestions are needed, not just to establish if the Code works, but also to find new and more effective ways to embed it in everyday practice. Legislation only works if people know about it – an obvious point, but one which needs to be considered by policy makers arguably more than by those it is intended to benefit.
So what happens next? Responses will be reviewed, the Code amended where appropriate and a formal report on the revisions published. And in a change from usual practice we’re offering contributors another opportunity to be involved – this time in designing the report’s front cover. We’re looking for imagery to illustrate the Code’s ultimate purpose – to protect the rights and dignity of those needing mental health services. Full details can be found here, but in the meantime, I urge you to make your views known and help paint a picture of better mental health.