19 January 2023

The Joint Committee released a report on the draft bill on Thursday 19 January 2023.

The Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill has published its report on the pre-legislative scrutiny on the draft Mental Health Bill

We are pleased to see the report include references to speech and language therapists and speech, language and communication needs. These issues were highlighted very powerfully by a number of witnesses and experts who stressed the importance of supporting speech, language and communication needs in both oral and written evidence submitted to the Committee. These issues were also clearly highlighted in the final report from the independent review of the Mental Health Act.
Given the strength of that evidence, we are disappointed that the Committee has not recommended that the Government ensures the importance of understanding, being understood and communicating is placed at the heart of the new reforms. As the Bill is taken forward, we call on the Government to commit to placing these in the draft Mental Health Bill.

The RCSLT has long advocated for people to have a voice in key decisions about their own care and treatment. Understanding and being understood is critical to all four of the key guiding principles of the draft Mental Health Bill. Establishing people’s communication preferences and making reasonable adjustments is critical to ensure that people are equal partners in decision-making. There is a risk of deepening inequalities if people cannot be heard. 

In our submission to the Joint Committee, the RCSLT highlighted that communication needs are a barrier which prevent people of all ages from accessing mental health services and benefiting from care and treatment. Every part of the mental health pathway requires language and communication.  From assessment to care and treatment planning through to language-based psychological therapies, all require significant understanding and expressive language skills for a person to be able to process information and communicate on complex topics. 

The Committee’s report also makes some important recommendations including giving people a right to make an Advance Choice Document, investing in community based alternatives to detention, and recommending a duty on Integrated Care Boards and Local Authorities to ensure an adequate supply of community services for people with learning disabilities and autistic people.

Delivery of the draft Bill rests on investing in, (and expanding), the community mental health workforce for both adults and children, so that all people can receive care and support in the community before they reach crisis point. The Government must commit to investing in the entire workforce, including access to speech and language therapists in all mental health services. We call on the Government to publish a comprehensive workforce plan alongside the Bill detailing how they plan to develop the community workforce including access to speech and language therapists. 

We look forward to working with our members and parliamentarians when the Bill is introduced to Parliament, to ensure that communication needs are fully taken into account and that people can access the vital speech and language therapy that they need.