Our response to the prime minister's party conference speech

4 October 2017

Early this year, prime minister Theresa May pledged that a re-elected Conservative government would replace "in its entirety, the flawed Mental Health Act" and today, May has reiterated the Conservative Party's commitment.

Commenting, Jenny Edwards, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said:

"We welcome prime minister May’s announcement of a much-needed independent review of the Mental Health Act and are encouraged to see recognition of unjustifiably high detention rates and unacceptable discrimination against people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) populations being noted in the speech. Echoing the United Nations Disability Committee's recent review of human rights in the UK, we are extremely concerned about the disproportionate use of the Act amongst BAME communities and the levels of compulsory treatment of women who experience violence or domestic violence and children and young people.

"The Mental Health Foundation have long called for these inequalities to be addressed and we look forward to working with Professor Sir Simon Wessely as he undertakes this hugely significant review process.

"To achieve better mental health across society, it is vital that the review adopts a rights-based approach that will protect people at the most vulnerable point in their lives. However, this review also has enormous potential to drive service improvement more generally by including all mental health service use and addressing the duties of other public services that come into contact with people encountering mental health problems. We hope that the scope of this review will in addition, address the need for effective scrutiny of the application of the legislation, ensuring continual regulation and monitoring.

"If we are to really address the major flaws in the current legislation and balance the rights of the individual with that of the public, then we need to enshrine any new or amended legislation with the principles of equality, non-discrimination, diversity and participation. At the heart of this needs to be the principle of reciprocity – where any freedom is taken away, in return people should expect to receive treatment that is efficient, effective and culturally sensitive.

"Today's closing speech provides an opportunity to start new conversations around what we aim to achieve through mental health legislation and to delve into new legislative approaches, hopefully concluding with a framework that ultimately achieves more equitable and safe services."