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Coronavirus Act 2020 – Schedule 8 and Mental Health Patient Rights

Our People - Hannah Sweeney
30 March, 2020

The Coronavirus Act 2020 has now been enacted and includes an entire Schedule to deal with the changes to the legislation set out in the Mental Health Act 1983 (as amended). The Coronavirus Act 2020 is time-limited for a period of 2 years but also allows the government to stop using the provisions once it is felt appropriate to do so.

Schedule 8 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 sets out the ‘temporary modifications’ being made to the Mental Health Act 1983 and other relevant provisions. 

The phrase, ‘impractical or would cause significant delay’ is used frequently throughout Schedule 8 and both patients and professionals working in the mental health system will now need to get used to it. This phrase best summarises the way in which mental health legislation will be implemented going forward, both within hospital settings and when dealing with patients in the community. 

Some of the main provisions in Schedule 8 include allowing patients who are being assessed under section 2 or 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to be detained using only one medical recommendation rather than two, and allowing Responsible Clinicians to medicate those objecting to treatment having consulted only one professional rather than two. Both of the above examples are of course subject to the test of whether the situation would make it ‘impractical or would cause significant delay’ to proceed in the usual way.

Many of the powers afforded to doctors, nurses and police to detain patients, either in hospital or in a place of safety, now also have extended timeframes to allow for the inevitable delays we will see in finding appropriate beds for patients or allowing time for assessments to take place.

Another huge impact the Coronavirus Act 2020 is having, and will continue to have, is on our Tribunals and Courts Service. 

Many detained patients will have been through the process of a First-tier Tribunal or are aware of the process. The monumental changes to the way in which First-tier Tribunals are being held for detained patients or patients subject to Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) are already being implemented, with all hearings now taking place via telephone conference and many being heard by one single legal member. Decisions are not being read out at the end of the hearings and many patients, who ordinarily would be entitled to expect an oral decision at the end of their hearing, are having to wait until the written decision is received, which could take up to one week. 

As this rapidly evolving pandemic continues to impact on life as we know it, it is impossible to summarise or claim to know the impact of this new legislation in one article. We are all going hand in hand to into the unknown, and for those with mental health conditions are possibly more vulnerable than ever. 

We will continue to support our clients and provide updates as soon as we can and we are very happy to answer any queries you may have about how the new legislation may affect you if you are a detained patient, you are receiving treatment in the community or if someone close to you falls into either of the above categories. 

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Hannah Sweeney is a Solicitor working in the Mental Health department. She qualified as a solicitor on 1st May 2017 and is based at our office in Tring, Hertfordshire.

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