Over fifty leaders in mental health and advocacy are calling on the government to make an unequivocal commitment to improving access to Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs) as part of the reform of the Mental Health Act” in a joint letter to Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid.

22 September 2021

BIHR has today joined with VoiceAbility, and over 50 other signatories including the chief executives of Mind, Rethink, the National Autistic Society, the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, writing to the Health and Social Care Secretary about our concerns around access to independent advocacy in reforming mental health law.

The independent review of the Mental Health Act in 2018 reccomended access to advocacy, but following the White Paper, there is mounting concern that this may be scaled back because of funding constraints and that government commitments to improve access to advocacy will be sacrificed. Earlier this year BIHR worked with the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) to support people and organisations to respond to the government's consultation on reforming the Mental Health Act. Access to independent advocacy was a consistent concern raised by all those who attended our workshops. As we said in our response to the government: 

"We think improved access to properly-funded, culturally competent independent advocacy would support our right to liberty (Article 5), our right to be free from discrimination (Article 14), and our right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence (Article 8). Whilst we are pleased to see that access to IMHAs and their powers will be expanded, the government said ‘the proposals that require additional funding continue to be subject to future funding decisions’. At BIHR, we are concerned about this. Where advocacy is essential to ensuring the rights mentioned above are respected and protected, this cannot be subject to funding as public bodies have a legal duty to do this."

Read more about our work on reform of the Mental Health Act here, including our Explainer on the reforms, findings from our workshops and our response to the government's analysis of what people told them. 

In today's joint letter, as the upcoming Spending Review approaches, we are calling on the government to fully implement its White Paper proposals to extend the right to advocacy to voluntary patients and to implement an opt-out’ model for advocacy, where people automatically get support from an advocate rather than having to ask for one. This is about ensuring people's rights are upheld. 

You can read the full letter here.