I was appalled to learn of the case of Seni Lewis who was 23 when he died after being restrained face-down in a mental health hospital. More worryingly, Seni’s case was not an isolated incident. Restraint is still used far too regularly in mental health units. This is despite Department of Health and Social Care guidelines which state it should only be used as a last resort.
The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill was introduced by my Labour colleague Steve Reed MP and I was in Parliament to support the Bill when it had its Third Reading in Parliament on Friday 6th July. I am happy that the Bill passed and will now become law.
Seni’s family were in Parliament to watch the Third Reading of this Bill and I met them afterwards. They are pleased that this law will mean that Seni’s death was not in vain because his legacy will be that no one else suffers and dies the way that he did.
Seni’s Law aims to ensure that patients in mental health hospitals are treated with care and compassion, not with violence. It legislates that physical restraint should only used in compliance with written policy and that training will be provided to all frontline staff. Seni’s Law also requires hospitals to publish data on how and when physical force is used and to improve oversight so that staff are aware of the risks of unconscious bias against minority groups such as young black men with mental ill-health. This Bill was supported by professional bodies including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Nursing, the College of Policing, and charities such as Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, YoungMinds and Agenda. I hope that it will reduce the use of force while addressing the unconscious bias currently reported in the system by increasing transparency, evidence, accountability and justice.
More widely, as I am Labour’s Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care, I welcome plans for an independent review of the Mental Health Act which is intended to ensure that those with mental ill-health are treated fairly and protected from discrimination. The interim report was published in May 2018 and found that there are many things that could be improved about the Mental Health Act and the way it is used. A final report is expected later this year.