Autism and learning disability no longer detainable ‘mental disorders’ under draft Mental Health Bill

2 mins read

Tuesday 5 July 2022

The government is proposing a series of major reforms to how autistic people and those with a learning disability are treated in law as part of its newly published draft Mental Health Bill.

Charities, campaigners and individuals have welcomed the bill as a huge step forward for disabled people’s rights, but also highlighted the need for urgent investment in social care and mental health services in the meantime.

Changes to ‘mental disorder’ classification

Under the draft bill, which will apply to England and Wales once approved by Parliament, neither autism — which will no longer be classed as a “mental disorder” — nor learning disability will be considered reasons for which someone can be detained for treatment under the Mental Health Act.

Instead, people who are autistic or have a learning disability will only be detained if they have a co-occurring psychiatric disorder.

Currently, people with these conditions are frequently subjected to lengthy and unsuitable detentions which often don’t meet their needs or provide any therapeutic benefit.

Legal duty for better community support

The bill also introduces a duty on the NHS and local authorities to ensure there are enough community services in place to stop inappropriate detentions, as well as to prevent autistic people or people with a learning disability from reaching crisis point.

Similarly, local commissioners will have a legal obligation to carry out Care, Education and Treatment review meetings to help disabled children and adults get discharged from hospital sooner.

These meetings should assess whether patients are receiving the right treatment or have any unmet social care, educational or medical needs — but as it stands, too often their recommendations and actions are not being followed.

Where to find advice and support

Read the government’s explanatory notes for more detail on the bill’s proposals.

For more information on mental health services for children and young people, visit our CAMHS webpage.

If your child or young person has been inappropriately detained, get in touch with our team or book an appointment for a free legal surgery with Irwin Mitchell for expert support.