That Dail Éireann resolves that the amendments to and other modifications of the Mental Health Act 2001 (No. 25 of 2001) effected by Part 5 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 (No. 2 of 2020) shall continue in operation for the period beginning on the 9th day of November, 2020 and ending on the 9th day of June, 2021.
I am introducing a resolution to extend the sunset clause of Part 5 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, which is due to expire on 9 November. The measures in Part 5 of this Act amend the Mental Health Acts, 2001 to 2018, specifically in respect of the role of independent consultant psychiatrists and the holding of mental health tribunals. Mental health tribunals comprise a solicitor or barrister, who acts as chairperson, a consultant psychiatrist and a layperson. Tribunals review the detention of every person involuntarily admitted and detained under the Mental Health Act 2001 within 21 days of admission and thereafter every three or six months. The tribunal either affirms the order detaining the patient or refuses it, following which the patient is released.
The Mental Health Commission, the independent regulator of mental health services in the State, approached the Department of Health in March of this year to raise its concerns over the need to ensure that these tribunals continue and that each patient's right to a review of his or her case is protected. In addition, there was a need to protect the health of both patients and healthcare staff and to ensure the potential for Covid-19 contamination was minimised. Following detailed discussion with the Mental Health Commission and the HSE, the Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, introduced the measures to ensure that these tribunals could continue.
These measures provide for a cascading approach to the role of independent consultant psychiatrists and mental health tribunals. This approach means that, where possible, the current system of review is conducted as normal. In cases where this is not possible due to Covid-19, alternative measures are in place to protect the rights of the patient. The measures allow a consultant psychiatrist conducting an independent examination of an involuntarily detained patient to do so remotely in scenarios where a personal examination cannot take place. The measures also provide for mental health tribunals, the bodies which review the detention of every involuntary patient, to consist of the chairperson only if members cannot attend due to the spread of Covid-19.
The Mental Health Commission has been monitoring the implementation of the new measures. While the current situation is not ideal, it has ensured that the rights of patients are upheld and that every patient has received his or her hearing. As of this week no one-person tribunals have been required and the full complement of a legal professional, a consultant psychiatrist and a layperson has reviewed all involuntary detentions, either remotely or in person. This, however, does not lessen the requirement to have these contingency measures in place since they may yet be required to protect the health of both patients and front-line healthcare staff. Furthermore, other supports have been provided to patients to ensure their voices are heard during this period, including the additional involvement of interpreters and the use of videoconferencing for interactions with legal representatives and independent consultant psychiatrists.
When this legislation was introduced more than six months ago, no one could have predicted the terrible toll Covid-19 would take on our country. As of last night, Ireland has recorded 53,422 cases and, sadly, 1,868 deaths. The current epidemiological situation is alarming and this week, the Government has had to make the difficult decision to move the entire country to level 5 restrictions in the interest of public health. Covid-19 remains a significant and serious threat to the health and welfare of all people. Outbreaks of Covid-19 continue to occur in the community and in our hospitals, including in approved centres. The measures temporarily amending the Mental Health Act 2001 must continue beyond 9 November as part of our efforts to protect our most vulnerable and our healthcare workers. The proposal to extend the measures is supported by both the HSE and the Mental Health Commission. I ask all Deputies to support the continuation of these measures in a timely manner.