Charities concerned over changes to Mental Health Act in event of Swine Flu pandemic

The charities, Rethink and Mind, have issued concerns over proposed changes to the Mental Health Act in the event of a Swine Flu pandemic. Download Consultation document and link to opinion from  Consultation ends 7 October!

Pandemic Influenza and the Mental Health Act 1983 Consultation document

PDF icon l


Open:  DH Consultation: Pandemic Influenza and the Mental Health Act

Pandemic influenza and the Mental Health Act 1983: consultation on proposed changes to the Mental Health Act 1983 and its associated secondary legislation

Launch date: 10 September 2009
Closing date: 7 October 2009
Creator/s: Department of Health
Copyright holder: Crown
Gateway number: 12268

You are invited to comment on proposals for temporary amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983 which may be required in the event of the severe staff shortages that may be expected during an influenza pandemic.

You are invited to say whether you think these proposals are likely to be helpful. Please let us know if there are any significant issues which you think we should have included, or if we have included anything unnecessary.

Download consultation document (PDF, 193K)

Responding to the consultation
Comments on the content of the consultation document should be sent by Wednesday 7 October 2009 to

Contact: Mental Health Legislation Team
Address: Department of Health
Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road
London SE1 8UG


Opinion from

Swine flu sparks mental health law change  By Andrew Jack and Clive Cookson

Published: September 10 2009 19:33

…The plans could have wide-ranging implications for thousands of patients with suspected psychosis, depression and psychiatric problems who are “sectioned” against their will under the 1983 mental health act…

“To take away just about all the safeguards seems a serious step which removes the protections for patients and professionals. This is a much softer standard than we have now” Dr Tony Zigmond, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Read full article on here

Swine flu: Charities concerned over Mental Health Act plans

Community Care   “For everyone in social care”

In an editorial, on 11 September 2009, Jeremy Dunning reported:

Rethink and Mind issue warning over plans to alter sectioning safeguards in light of pandemic

Mental health charities have outlined concerns on proposed temporary changes to the detention of patients under the Mental Health Act in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak.

Rethink and Mind warned that patient safeguards could be compromised after the Department of Health yesterday issued consultative proposals to ensure Mental Health Act functions could be maintained should a flu outbreak trigger severe staff shortages.

The consultation, which is unusually short, closes on 7 October and would lead to the introduction of emergency legislation in the early autumn.

Proposed changes

The proposed amendments fall into three areas:-

  • Reducing from two to one the number of doctors required to comply with a number of actions under the act, including detention for assessment or treatment if the approved mental health professional making the application believes there would otherwise be an undesirable delay.
  • Extending or suspending time limits that apply to certain provisions – for instance suspending the requirement for a second opinion appointed doctor (SOAD) to approve giving a patient medication without consent if they have been in hospital for three months or more.
  • Allowing certain additional people to be approved to undertake some specific functions – for example some recently retired approved social workers may be temporarily approved to undertake the role of the approved mental health professional…

Read full editorial here

A brief article on Wednesday 23 September 2009, in Management in Practice reports:

Swine flu prompts changes to Mental Health Act

The government plans to rush through measures allowing people with suspected mental health issues to be quickly detained because of fears over staff shortages in any forthcoming swine flu outbreak, it has been revealed.

The temporary changes to the Mental Health Act, as laid out in an unusually short consultation lasting just one month, would mean it would only take one doctor, rather than two, to have a person sectioned and put on medication without their consent.

The measures could have a serious effect on the thousands of patients with psychiatric issues who currently live outside state care, meaning many could be detained against their will on the word of just one health professional.

With very little information on the proposed changes published, many mental health experts have warned the government that they risk side-lining an already vulnerable community and have called on it to spell-out the full raft of changes proposed in the consultation.  Source: Management in Practice