Jo’s Blog: Spare a thought for those with a serious mental illness who are locked up right now

These are challenging times as we address the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and I want to use my Blog to provide information, support and reassurance to people affected by the Mental Health Act – and to draw attention to their needs in the present crisis…


Mental Health Act changes

You may have heard about temporary changes to the Mental Health Act in response to Covid-19: you can see details of the changes here. Of course these changes aren’t anything to do with the recent review or long-term reform of the Act.

I’ve taken a good look at the changes and I’d like to offer some reassurance to people who may be affected. The changes are about practical matters like how many doctors need to be involved and timescales for operation of the Act. They are not ideal but they make sense in the present circumstances. I’m convinced that people affected will be safer as a result of the changes because without them the operation of the Act could be slowed up by the pressure on doctors and others trying to address the present crisis.


Those detained in hospital and prison

I’m concerned about those with a serious mental illness who are locked up right now, whether they are in hospital or prison. Three things come to mind:

  • Exposure to the illness itself: There are obvious risks from infectious disease in hospitals and prisons. I’m not going to lecture the experts on how to address these but let’s just reflect on the special responsibility of the state for the safety of people it locks up, and particularly those who are most vulnerable. The safety of these people must be treated as the highest priority because their own ability to protect themselves is so limited by their circumstances.

I’m reassured to hear from Hafal that NHS hospitals and Hafal’s own Gellinudd Recovery Centre are working hard to implement the same safeguards as general hospitals. Patients and families can play their part too by following the rules and being patient with necessary procedures.

  • Indirect effects: We must take care that the disruptive effects of control measures and the stretching of resources are mitigated. Time-consuming disease control measures, restricted visiting, staff illness and staff redeployment – these and other factors could affect patients and prisoners.

Again, patients and families need to be understanding about these pressures and work with staff to help everybody get through the crisis.

  • Access to beds: another concern is the possibility of too early discharge of vulnerable patients and increasing restrictions on access to hospital for those in need. There may well be such pressures but safety needs to be maintained for all – we should aim not to compromise safety standards.

Because my wider campaign is about people detained against their will I am especially concerned for them – but of course many of these concerns will also affect voluntary patients.

Overall my call to in-patients, prisoners and families is: expect some inconvenience and disruption; play your part and work with staff cooperatively to help everybody get through; and of course if anything goes wrong and you feel unsafe or in real difficulty, you can still raise this with hospital or prison staff or with their managers: they are there to help.

And for everybody!

Because of the subject of this Blog I’ve given a focus to in-patients and prisoners but I know that Covid-19 is a challenge for everybody’s mental health and we all need to look after ourselves. A good place to start is with Hafal’s brilliant Five tips for looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak – and from that page you can link to lots more excellent and supportive content on Hafal’s websites and social media.

Looking ahead

Look, I know it’s unrealistic to expect much in the way of new long-term policy on mental health in the coming days. The NHS and other Welsh and UK government departments (and indeed my friends in Hafal and other providers) are tied up with tackling coronavirus – and we all want them to give that the highest priority. Reform of the Mental Health Act is urgent but will have to wait until we get over the immediate threat posed by this illness.

But rest assured I will be back on the case just as soon things improve. Meanwhile, I’m confident and optimistic and you should be too – we’ll get through this together!



Jo Roberts is a mental health campaigner who has been on the receiving end of the Mental Health Act – and is still subject to it today. In the past she has received compulsory treatment; some of that treatment was deeply unpleasant and even terrifying. Jo is campaigning for a progressive Mental Health Act fit for the 21st Century – an Act that gives patients and carers in Wales and beyond a fairer deal. Read more…