28 June 2022

The RCSLT has welcomed the publication of the draft Mental Health Bill, but called for support for people with communication and swallowing needs to be front and centre of the reforms and for the role of speech and language therapy in mental health to be recognised and maximised.

In response to the government’s consultation on Reforming the Mental Health Act (PDF), the RCSLT particularly welcomed the aims of the reforms that seek to ensure that:

  • people’s choice and autonomy are improved and respected;
  • services provide therapeutic benefit;
  • the least levels of restriction are used; and
  • people accessing mental health services are treated as individuals.

Understanding and being understood is central to all the key guiding principles of the reforms the draft Mental Health Bill seeks to implement.

Choice and autonomy can only be achieved if someone can understand what others are saying and make themselves understood. This enables people to explain their needs. It also enables them to make informed choices about their own care and treatment.

It is essential, therefore, that people who communicate differently or with difficulty are supported to communicate and engage in the way that suits them best when they are in touch with mental health services.

This must include having access to speech and language therapy where it is required. However too few people in contact with mental health services can access this vital therapy. This risks people being unable to access and benefit from the reforms, risking worse outcomes for them and affecting their recovery.

More needs to be done to support people’s communication and swallowing needs – not just in the draft Bill, but in all the UK government’s mental health reforms.

Beyond the Bill

Given the links between communication and swallowing and mental health, any communication and swallowing needs people have must be identified and supported when they are accessing mental health services.

To achieve that, the following must happen:

  • Embedded speech and language therapists (SLTs) – SLTs must be recognised as a core part of the mental health multidisciplinary team – and be embedded in them.
  • Mental health workforce – the expansion of the mental health workforce must include SLTs to support recovery.
    • The government recognised our increasing role in mental health in its submission to the Migration Advisory Committee’s review of the Shortage Occupation List (PDF) in 2019.
  • Responsible clinician/approved clinician – this role should be extended to SLTs. This would help the government to achieve their national target to increase take-up and provide better support. It would also utilise the expert communication skills of SLTs in supporting people living with complex communication difficulties.

Playing our full part

SLTs have a vital role in promoting good mental health, in developing protective communication to prevent mental health problems from escalating and in providing essential care and support to people with mental ill-health and their families.

We call on the government to ensure we are able to play our full part in delivering better mental health for all, including through the reforms proposed in the draft Mental Health Bill.

To bring that about, the RCSLT will work with members and parliamentarians as the draft Bill receives parliamentary scrutiny to ensure that communication and swallowing needs are fully taken into account, so that everyone with mental health conditions, and their families and carers, can access the vital speech and language therapy that they need.

For more on the role of speech and language therapy in mental health see:

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