People Power Gets Wales New Mental Health Laws

A National Assembly for Wales event to be held at mental health charity Hafal’s National Resource Centre at St Fagans, Cardiff, on Thursday 11th February will mark the Royal Approval of the Mental Health Legislative Competence Order

Today the National Assembly for Wales has been granted legislative competence to create an Assembly Measure (or ‘Welsh Law’) dealing with assessment, treatment and advocacy in mental health.

The Mental Health Legislative Competence Order (LCO) was put forward by Assembly Member Jonathan Morgan following calls from service users for an improved mental health service in Wales – meaning that some of the most disadvantaged people in society will have found a voice in the proposed new legislation. It is the first ever LCO from a backbench Assembly Member.

Bill Walden-Jones, Chief Executive of service-user led Welsh mental health charity Hafal, said: “This is brilliant news for the people of Wales. Following the passing of a disappointing Mental Health Act in 2007, service users in Wales were calling for a better deal. Jonathan Morgan picked up on these concerns and introduced a compelling Member-proposed LCO which gained the support of all parties.

“The Mental Health Act 2007 focused on compulsion – those instances when service users’ rights are taken away – without giving patients any rights to treatment in return. For Hafal’s clients it has always been about creating a balance, with the right to early treatment and a comprehensive care plan in place alongside the rare use – with safeguards – of compulsion, usually when people are a danger to themselves.

“Our Members feel that the new legislation provides an opportunity to strike a fairer deal, to give service users key rights and to strengthen that partnership between patients and professionals which is so vital to the success of mental health services.”

Service users in Wales are now calling for the new Measure to provide three key rights:

1. A right to timely assessment:
If a GP believes a patient may have a serious mental illness and refers them for assessment, the patient should have a legal right to be assessed by a specialist team within a set period.

2. A right to a holistic care plan:
If during the assessment it is decided that the patient needs secondary mental health services then they should have a legal right to a holistic care plan – which is agreed with them – covering all necessary areas. There is an obvious legal precedent for which areas of life should be covered in a care plan in the Welsh Mental Health Act Code of Practice for Wales (these are not specified in the English Code of Practice).

3. A right to advocacy:
Advocacy should be provided not only to those subject to the Mental Health Act, but to all those in hospital by reason of their serious mental illness.
When he proposed the Mental Health LCO Mr Morgan said that the most convincing piece of evidence for why reform is so long overdue came from Hafal service user Lee McCabe. Speaking about the LCO Lee said: “Having given evidence to the committees considering the LCO I am pleased to see it finally get Royal Approval. I hope the new laws will mean that people with a serious mental illness can look forward to an improved, fairer service with more emphasis on care planning.”

Speaking about the importance of care planning Rebecca Bond, a service user attending Hafal’s National Resource Centre in St Fagans, said: “Care plans are so important. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 14, but I didn’t get a care plan until I was 17. If I’d been given a care plan earlier it could have prevented the ups and downs I went through in those first years.”

Lee added: “Not everyone with a serious mental illness is lucky enough to have a care plan, but I know from experience that this is the essential tool that service users need to move forward with their recovery. We need a legal right to a comprehensive care plan. Giving service users this right will put Wales ahead in the UK.”