The Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act & the White Paper, 2021

The Mental Health Act White Paper

NSUN has responded to the White Paper consultation on reforms to the Mental Health Act.


The Mental Health Act 1983 is a piece of legislation in England and Wales setting out when people can be detained and hospitalised for mental health treatment against their wishes. 

In 2017, an independent review of the Mental Health Act was announced with the intention of addressing concerns about issues such as rising detentions and the disproportionate number of people from Black and minority ethnic groups detained under the Act. You can read about the background here. It was chaired by Simon Wessely and concluded at the end of 2018. NSUN worked throughout the process to consult with our membership and represent your views. We also responded to the interim report. You can view the final report and recommendations here, which we analysed

In January 2021 the government’s White Paper (a policy document that sets out their proposals for future legislation based on the Review) was released. The White Paper broadly follows the recommendations in the Independent Review. It was open to a public, online consultation until the 21st April. 

Our starting position is that real change in how people experience detention is not just down to legislation, but will also be contingent on changes in practice and culture, and on the funding which follows. NSUN will be holding a series of online events and surveys for our members, in order to help us formulate a response, but also to support people respond to the consultation directly. For campaigners, the White Paper may not be what some of us had hoped for- but it is what is on the table. It is no exaggeration to say that this is a once in a generation opportunity to change this piece of legislation. Small changes in the Act will make a huge difference to the lives of people who are detained, their families and friends, and people who live in fear of the Act.

Let’s work together to make these reforms as meaningful as possible for the people it will affect the most. You can read our more detailed initial response (January 2021) here.


NSUN has also worked to address measures proposed in the UK’s Coronavirus Bill which relaxed safeguards in mental health legislation – you can read about this work here and here

What we did in the consultation period, March and April 2021:

Blog series: exploring experiences of detention under the Mental Health Act

Text on a background of white crinkled paper. The text says "exploring experiences of detention under the mental health act" in bold black capital letters and the NSUN logo is underneath the text


Card Games & Colouring Books: an Inpatient Perspective on being Sectioned by Jennifer Reese

Autism and colour in a monochrome anti-neurodivergent psychiatric setting by Zaynab Sohawon 

My experience of being sectioned by Emily Katy

What do I expect? Better than this: the NHS complaints system by Nikki Mattocks

Mental Health Act webinars with BIHR

The British Institute of Human rights logo

For people who are accessing, have accessed or are trying to access mental health services, we held a webinar with the British Institute of Human Rights on the reforms to the Mental Health Act and what they mean for human rights.

We also held a similar session for those working in or with mental health services.

If you weren’t able to attend these sessions but still want to feed into BIHR/NSUN responses you can answer their easy read survey by clicking here.

Mental Health Act Q&A Webinar

We held a Q&A webinar on the 6th April on the proposed changes to the Mental Health Act in the White Paper: understanding the changes & responding to the consultation. The recording is available below to watch.

We explored the changes to the Mental Health Act 1983 set out in the recent White Paper. We wanted to delve into the detail of the proposed changes to enable more people to understand the White Paper and respond to the consultation, which is running online until the 21st April.

Chairing the discussion was Mark Brown, Development Director of Social Spider and a well-recognised writer and tweeter on mental health, social innovation and social media.

Our panellists were:

  • Jabeer Butt, the CEO of the Race Equality Foundation. 
  • Joanna Dean, a lawyer specialising in prison and mental health.
  • Neil Allen, a Barrister and Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester. With particular interests in human rights, mental health and incapacity law.
  • Jayne Gardner, an Approved Mental Health Professional. 

Mental Capacity Law and Policy “Shedinar” Episode on the MHA reforms

“In this ‘in conversation with’ Akiko Hart, Chief Executive of NSUN, we discuss the challenges of responding to reform proposals in relation to mental health law and practice as a membership organisation, and also get into some of the thorny issues around mental health reform more generally.

This ‘in conversation with’ is audio only, and you can most easily access it by the podcast link here.”

Mental Health Act survey series

NSUN ran a series of short surveys on the Mental Health Act White Paper. Responses helped us form the NSUN response to the White Paper consultation. Our surveys focussed on: discharge from hospital, the role of Independent Mental Health Advocates, racial disparities, and the newly proposed “guiding principles”.

Last updated: April 2021

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