Intended for healthcare professionals


Proposed reforms of the Mental Health Act

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 24 March 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n727

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Alison Beck, director of psychology and psychotherapy1,
  2. Paul Farmer, chief executive2,
  3. Til Wykes, professor of clinical psychology and rehabilitation3
  1. 1South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  2. 2Mind, London, UK
  3. 3Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: A Beck Alison.Beck{at}

A true sign of progress in mental health?

The Mental Health Act in England is reviewed in every generation as society takes stock of its relationship with people with mental health problems. The latest proposed reforms show how far our views have shifted. Regular review is important because the act is one of only a tiny number of laws allowing the state to detain and treat someone against their will.

The white paper on the proposed reforms1 is open for consultation until 21 April 2021. It is based on recommendations from an independent review led by Simon Wessely.2 There is widespread consensus that the current legislation is well past its sell by date. Apart from some minor (but deeply controversial) changes during Tony Blair’s Labour government (1997-2007) and some minor (but equally controversial) changes under the Conservative government in the 1980s, the current law is essentially rooted in 1960s views of mental health. At that time mental health was rarely mentioned in the media, except for sensational stories. …

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