Health minister announces single bill approach for mental health

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has announced the future pathway for new mental capacity and mental health legislation for Northern Ireland.

Traditionally enacted as two separate areas of law, mental capacity and mental health legislation will, for the first time, be encompassed into a single piece of legislation.

Announcing the proposals, Mr McGimpsey said: “My department has carefully considered the findings and recommendations from the public consultation held earlier this year. There was wide support for principles-based legislation and respondents were also supportive of improved safeguards and protections for individuals who lacked the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.”

On January 2, 2009, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety issues for consultation ‘A Legislative Framework for Mental Capacity and Mental Health Legislation in Northern Ireland’. The consultation proposed the development of a legislative framework incorporating two separate pieces of legislation for mental capacity and mental health, both supported by an overarching set of human rights principles.

Responses to the consultation indicated a strong body of opinion, particularly from professional groups and lead voluntary organisations, which considered that separate mental health legislation continues to be stigmatising and recommended that mental capacity and mental health provisions, should instead be encompassed into a single piece of legislation.

The Minister continued: “This single piece of legislation will bring innovative long-term legislative change to Northern Ireland and will make a real difference to people’s lives.

“I remain committed to ensuring that those with a mental disorder or learning disability are treated on the same basis as any other person and that their dignity and human rights are fully protected. And, to demonstrate this commitment, my department will pursue this opportunity for a transformational legislative approach.”

The overall principle of the legislative reform will be ‘autonomy’, which means that individuals with mental capacity to make their own decisions will be allowed to do so.

The Minister concluded: “This principle was envisaged by the Bamford Review and is a vision I am determined to achieve. Through this work, we have a real opportunity to bring long-lasting positive benefits to our society in terms of the enhancement of individual care and protection; and the protection of dignity, human rights and public safety. The Northern Ireland Executive has supported me in this innovative and far reaching approach.”