MPs call for new tribunal to hear mental health treatment challenges

The government should pilot a mental health tribunal that would enable patients under the Mental Health Act to potentially challenge their treatment plans, a parliamentary committee tasked with scrutinising reforms of the 40-year-old legislation has recommended.

Following an independent review of the 1983 act, the government unveiled ‘once in a generation’ reforms. However, the government decided not to follow the review’s recommendation of giving mental health tribunals the power to hear treatment challenges after concerns were raised about the power and expertise of a single judge sitting alone, intervening in clinical decision-making, as well as resource pressures.

The joint committee on the draft mental health bill heard evidence from the Law Society, which supported the idea of a formal route, independent of medical professionals, to challenge treatment. ‘However, they qualified this by also questioning how effective a lone judge might be, and whether to refer a decision back to the responsible clinician for reconsideration constituted too limited a form of redress for a patient who might have been expecting the tribunal to reach a different decision, possibly recommending some other form of treatment. They warned that this might cause the patient to lose trust in the tribunal system,’ the committee said in a detailed report published today.

The committee acknowledged that the government’s bill proposes measures that would increase the frequency of appeals to the tribunal. The committee also recognised concerns about the ‘potential conflict’ between clinicians and judges, and the potential increase in workload for medical professionals.

However, the committee said: ‘We agree with the independent review that a slimmed-down mental health tribunal should be able to consider whether a patient is entitled to challenge their treatment plans, if requested, following a Second Opinion Authorised Doctor Review or a major change in treatment. We recommend that the government amend the draft bill to allow for pilots in the first instance, to ensure that the additional workload is manageable and the tribunal and clinicians’ roles are not compromised.’


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