MPs call for government to appoint special mental health tsar

The Government should appoint a mental health tsar to be an advocate for patients, MPs and peers have said. (PA)
The Government should appoint a mental health tsar to be an advocate for patients, MPs and peers have said. (PA)

The Government should appoint a mental health tsar to be an advocate for patients, MPs and peers have said.

A joint parliamentary committee has called for the appointment of a Mental Health Commissioner to oversee key reforms in the sector.

The call comes after groups of MPs and peers scrutinised the draft Mental Health Bill.

The Bill makes important changes and offers more oversight of how the Mental Health Act is used to detain people who are severely mentally unwell, they said.

A new Commissioner could oversee reforms suggested in the Bill and in particular tackle inequalities among people who have been sectioned, they suggest.

Figures show a rising number of people are detained under the Mental Health Act and a recent review sounded the alarm that black people are four times more likely to be sectioned under the act compared to white people.

The authors said that the draft Bill must be strengthened to address rising numbers detained under current laws and to tackle “unacceptable and inexcusable” racial inequalities.

Meanwhile they called on ministers to publish a comprehensive implementation and workforce plan alongside the Bill.

There should be a statutory duty to report annually on the progress against milestones, including the number of detentions, length of stay and progress on reducing racial and ethnic inequalities, the MPs and peers said.

Baroness Buscombe, chairwoman of the joint committee, said: “We welcome the intention of the Government’s draft Bill to bring about long overdue mental health reform.

“To drive reform, we urge the creation of a new Mental Health Commissioner to monitor the implementation of the Bill and to speak up for patients, families and carers.

“We believe stronger measures are needed to bring about change, in particular to tackle racial disparity in the use of the Mental Health Act. The failure to date is unacceptable and inexcusable.

“The existing shortfall in community care must also be addressed or these reforms risk being derailed, with worse outcomes for those that the Bill is intended to help.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We welcome the committee’s support for the aims of the Government’s draft Mental Health Bill to bring about long overdue mental health reform.

“We are taking action to address the unequal treatment of people from black and other ethnic minority backgrounds with mental illness – including by tightening the criteria under which people can be detained and subject to community treatment orders.

“The Government will now review the committee’s recommendations and respond in due course.”