Seni’s Law: A Huge Step Forwards, But Still Work To Do
The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill is being debated again in Parliament. If it becomes law, it will make a big difference - but there is still work to do.
Good mental health hospitals can save lives and help young people to recover and manage their conditions. But at the moment, far too many young people are being restrained or put in seclusion, in a way that can be traumatic and, in some cases, lead to serious injury or even death. This urgently needs to change.
If it goes through, the Mental Health Units Bill – known as Seni's Law – will ensure that every use of force in a mental health unit is systematically recorded, and that every unit has a policy in place on force and a named individual responsible for implementing it.
Crucially, it will also mean much more training for staff on de-escalation techniques, so they have better ways to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis than the use of force.
But there are three important elements missing from the Bill:
1. A commitment to reduce the overall use of force in mental health units
On average, restraint is used more than 60 times per day on young people under 20 in mental health units across the country. This is unacceptable. In fact, three separate UN reports have condemned the way that force is used on young people with mental health conditions in the UK.
That’s why the Bill should explicitly state that mental health units should aim to reduce the use of force.
2. The obligation to inform patients about their right to an Independent Advocate
Every young person admitted to a mental health hospital is entitled to an Independent Advocate, who can stand up for them and query decisions about the way that force is used. But many young people and families don’t even know this.
By including a duty on mental health units to explain to patients that they have the legal right to an advocate, the Bill would ensure that more young people have a say in how they are treated at the most vulnerable point of their lives.
3. Preventing the use of threats and coercion
Staff should never threaten to use force in order to control a young person or frighten them into behaving in a particular way, as this can be extremely distressing – especially for anyone who has previously experienced violence or abuse.
The Bill doesn’t currently mention coercion or the threat of force in its list of harmful practices – and it should do. It should also explicitly state that force should not be used as punishment, or to cause humiliation or pain.
Staff working in mental health hospitals have an incredibly challenging job, and have a responsibility to prevent children from causing serious harm to themselves and others. But we know from years of working with young people in these units - carrying out numerous pieces of research on behalf of the NHS, the Care Quality Commission and The Department of Health – that change is urgently needed.
Steve Reed MP deserves huge praise for pushing this Bill through, and the government deserves credit for supporting it. But, unless it is amended, the Bill will not have achieved everything that it could.
One of our young activists, who has experienced physical restraint in a mental health unit, said:
This is a huge opportunity to ensure that young people in mental health hospitals are always treated with dignity and respect, and never treated in ways that can be traumatising and set back their recovery. That’s why, if the Bill is passed today, we will continue to fight for these crucial improvements in the House of Lords.
Our Always Campaign
Find out more about our Always campaign, and how we are calling on the Government to set out strong, enforceable rights to protect children in mental health hospitals, and their families, when they need it most.