Mental Health Act advocacy must be a priority for Local Authorities, says Mental Health Alliance report

17 March 2011

Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) services for people detained under the Mental Health Act are over-stretched and unable to help all of the people who need their support, according to a report published today by the Mental Health Alliance.

Independent Mental Health Advocacy, by Rezina Hakim and Tom Pollard, finds wide variability in the commissioning of advocacy services, which should be available as a right to all patients who are detained or treated under the 2007 Mental Health Act.

It finds that while there is evidence of good commissioning and provision in some areas, some primary care trusts (PCTs) have not funded sufficient advocacy support for the numbers of people who need them or have diverted funds from other advocacy services to pay for IMHA.

The report also finds that patients are not being made aware of their right to advocacy and that there are particular gaps in provision for Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, many of which are disproportionately likely to be subject to the Mental Health Act.

The report recommends that commissioners of IMHA services conduct a full assessment of local needs, including the specific requirements of BME communities. It calls on mental health services to inform patients of their right to an advocate and recommends that the Care Quality Commission monitors the implementation of IMHA and takes action where patients are not being offered the support they need.

Alison Cobb, chair of the Alliance, said: "Independent mental health advocacy is a vital safeguard for the rights of people who are detained under the Mental Health Act, including those who are subject to the new powers of supervised community treatment when they leave hospital.

"The Health and Social Care Bill shifts responsibility for commissioning of IMHA services from the NHS to local authorities. It is vital that local authority commissioners are given clear guidance to help them to commission advocacy services to meet all of their local needs."

The research in the report was supported by Action for Advocacy.

Download the IMHA report - 295 KB