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This Library briefing provides information on mental health policy in England.

Section 1 looks at the Coronavirus pandemic and the impact on mental health. It examines the Coronavirus Act 2020 which provided for temporary changes to the detention and treatment of patients under the Mental Health Act 1983, and the potential impact on human rights.  It also looks at the impact of the pandemic on population mental health, including for specific groups such as BAME communities. It briefly sets out resources to support population mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic, including specific mental health support for the health and social care workforce, and additional funding for mental health charities.  

The briefing provides a timeline of recent Government and NHS policies on mental health in England. In February 2016 an Independent Mental Health Taskforce published The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. This made a series of recommendations for the NHS and Government to improve outcomes in mental health by 2020/21, including ending the practice of sending people out of their local area for inpatient care and increasing access to talking therapies. The Government and NHS England accepted the Taskforce recommendations and committed to support their implementation.

The NHS Long Term Plan, published on 7 January 2019, provided a number of further commitments to improve mental health services. On adult mental health services, the Plan committed to providing an additional 380,000 people per year with access to adult psychological therapies by 2023/24. It also stated that new services to support patients going through a mental health crisis would be introduced.

To support the ambitions within the Plan NHS England has made a renewed commitment that expenditure on mental health services will grow faster than the overall NHS budget, creating a new ringfenced local investment fund worth at least £2.3 billion a year by 2023/24.

In October 2017, the Government commissioned an independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983, in response to concerns about rising rates of detention and the disproportionate use of the Act among people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. The final report was published in December 2018 (‘Modernising the Mental Health Act: Increasing choice, reducing compulsion’). The Government published its White Paper Reforming the Mental Health Act on 13 January 2021 which sets out its proposals to reform the Act in full.

The briefing also looks at the use of force in mental health units. Current guidance, including the Code of Practice to the Mental Health Act and that published by NICE, provides direction to service providers and healthcare staff about the use of force and restrictive intervention. The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 was introduced, as a Private Members Bill, by Labour MP Steve Reed, following the death of a constituent, Seni Lewis, in 2010. Most of the provisions of the Act have not yet come in to force, but it will increase the oversight and management of the use of force in mental health units.

As health is a devolved matter, the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for setting their own policies in this area. Links to policies of the devolved administrations are provided in section 6 of this briefing.

Links to Library briefings on more specific areas of mental health policy, such as children and young people’s mental health, suicide prevention, and perinatal and women’s mental health, are provided in section 7.


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