Vulnerable people sectioned under the Mental Health Act are being subjected to medical treatment without consent and are not protected by effective legal safeguards, the Law Society has warned.
In evidence to an independent review published on Monday, the organization, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, says initial powers to hold patients for up to six months may breach their human rights.
Separate provisions under the 1983 act that permit doctors to enforce treatment without consent in the first three months of a patient’s detention should be abolished, the Law Society argues.
The submission is in response to a review launched by Theresa May in a recent party conference speech. The Law Society’s vice-president, Christina Black laws said: “As the law stands today, someone detained under the Mental Health Act – or ‘sectioned’ – may be treated without their consent for the first three months of their detention without any safeguards. This must stop.
“The act gives the state the power to detain patients for protracted periods of time – but after the initial decision, the first opportunity a patient has to revisit this is after six months. We think they should be able to challenge their detention much earlier – six months is far too long and may compound the distress of people who are already suffering.
“Children may not be able to challenge their detention or treatment at all. The Law Society is calling for specific safeguards for children receiving in-patient psychiatric care.”
The Law Society wants an end to regulations that do not require patient consent for the first three months of detention. It suggests that treatment should be authorised by a “second-opinion appointed doctor”.
Use of community treatment orders, under which patients are being paid cash to take their medication in the community, may be “a crude mechanism for the chronic bed management issues in hospitals”, the Law Society says.
It also demands an end to mixed-sex psychiatric wards since the “frequent disturbed/disinhibited behavior of some patients hinders the recovery of others, making them vulnerable and infringing personal dignity”.
Black laws added: “Attitudes and approaches to mental health have moved on since the act was written, and the legislation should reflect that. Every person who suffers from mental health issues should be treated in the least restrictive way possible, and should only be detained against their will if their health, safety or public protection depends on this last resort.”