Never lose sight of importance of investing in mental health care - Sandy Riddell

As we almost reach the end of 2021, I thought it could be useful to say something about the activities of the Mental Welfare Commission over the working year of 2020/21.

Sandy Riddell, Chair, Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland
Sandy Riddell, Chair, Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland

This was an incredibly challenging time for those at the centre of our work – people who are living with mental ill health, learning disability, dementia and other related conditions, and for their relatives and carers.

Coping through the pandemic, when services often had to change drastically, added to the ongoing difficulty for many.

Keeping connected

Visiting individuals and their families, and listening to how they feel about their care and treatment, is a really important part of our work.

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We visit people in hospital wards or in the community. At the start of the pandemic we had to postpone those visits, but as soon as we were able we began a phased reintroduction, working to government guidelines.

We also have a small engagement team with their own lived experience of mental ill health, or caring for those with mental ill health. That team kept in touch, meeting over 280 people with lived experience or as relatives/carers from across the country, in mainly online meetings.

Authority to Discharge

After concerns were raised with us about the legality of movement of people from hospitals to care homes in the early stages of the pandemic, we decided to look nationally at the situation.

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Our report – Authority to Discharge – identified some pandemic-related illegal moves of people, but went much wider. We found gaps in training and in knowledge sharing that were in the system long before we’d heard of Covid-19.

We expect this report to have long term, positive, implications for individuals, families and for health and care staff.

Monitoring the Acts

One of our statutory roles is to monitor the use of the law when people with mental ill health or incapacity are receiving treatment.

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Last year we increased this activity, publishing mid-year data tracing any impact of the pandemic on detentions under the Mental Health Act. We published both our annual Mental Health Act monitoring report and our Adults with Incapacity Act monitoring report.

In our Mental Health Act monitoring, we remain very concerned over the way detentions are taking place. Although the legislation is under review, this is about the use of the law here and now, and we will continue to speak out about this issue.

Women in prison

We published an investigation into care for vulnerable women with mental ill health in Cornton Vale prison. We began this work following a damning publication from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture after their visit to Scotland. Our report confirmed their findings, and raised wider questions about missed opportunities in early intervention, pathways from prison to the community and the revolving door of prison.

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As we look ahead to a new year, I understand the pressure on budgets, but we need never to lose sight of the importance of investing in mental health care.

You can find out more about our work on our website at mwcscot.org.uk

Sandy Riddell, Chair, Mental Welfare Commission

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