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Issued: 25 March 2020

Coronavirus Bill and mental health - Press Release

The government has proposed  emergency legislation during the COVID-19 pandemic. At this difficult time, the bill allows for many useful provisions and changes, including emergency registration of health professionals and temporary registration of social workers, provision for emergency volunteering leave, and powers to act for the protection of public health. BABCP recognises the severity of the current pandemic and fully supports all that can be done to safeguard public health

Part of the Coronavirus bill relates to mental health and social care provision and BABCP has some concerns about potential unintended consequences which we believe would benefit from additional scrutiny and potential revision. These relate to the rights of rights of patients experiencing severe mental health problems and for those accessing social care support.

Patients experiencing severe mental health problems

Detaining someone for assessment or treatment should only occur in the case of a mental illness which needs assessment or treatment which is so serious that detention is necessary for the person’s health and safety, or for the protection of others, and assessment or treatment has to be carried out in hospital but the person does not consent to this.

Currently, if someone is assessed under a section of the Mental Health Act for need for assessment or treatment, two doctors are required to be involved as well as an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP).

The Coronavirus Bill proposes that the usual rules around two doctors being required to consult can be relaxed as required, if impractical or causing delay, over the next two years, and instead that one doctor only can be involved. The bill also allows for longer periods of detention without reassessment and relaxes the need for a full assessment of someone’s community needs before they are discharged from a mental health ward.

It is important that vulnerable people will be able to be safeguarded in hospital at times of crisis even when there are fewer healthcare staff available, however we are concerned that this bill is being proposed for two years with no clear review period built in. We are concerned about the reduction in rights that this represents for individuals with severe mental illness and about the potential lowering of standards in terms of meeting patients’ needs post-discharge.

  • We call for the government to provide greater clarity about when these adjustments will be made and when they will be rescinded.
  • We ask for support post-discharge for people leaving hospital after a psychiatric admission to be built into the Bill.

People accessing social care support

The bill proposes a change to Care Act assessments for care and support. It proposes that these become powers that can be used, rather than duties which must be done. This includes the suspension of duties for those transitioning from under-18 social care support to adult social care and the duty of care to provide assessment and services to meet the needs of disabled adults. These measures are again being proposed for two years.

We are unclear about the reasons for this change. We recognise that health and social care staff will be extremely stretched in coming months but we are concerned by this suspension of the Care Act for potentially a two year period. We are concerned that these measures will disadvantage the already disadvantaged even further and remove important safeguards for the most vulnerable.

  • We ask that the government explains the need for the suspension of the Care Act.
  • We ask that this suspension is reversed and that this proposal is debated more fully.