The Mental Health Act 2001 is the principal legislation on mental health in Ireland and replaced legislation dating back to 1945. The Act brought about major reform in the area of mental health law and practice in Ireland. The Act which, commenced in 2006, provides safeguards for those involuntarily admitted and detained in approved centres and puts in place mechanisms for the regulation and inspection of our mental health services. The Act also established the Mental Health Commission.
My Department has introduced a number of Acts amending the 2001 Act.
The Mental Health Act 2008 was enacted on an emergency basis to deal with issues that had arisen in a court case at that time, specifically in relation to unexpired and expired renewal orders. The immediate passing of the legislation was deemed to be necessary to reduce the possibility of impacting negatively on patient health.
The Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 introduced the definition of ‘authorised person’ to the Mental Health Act 2001. An "authorised person" is a person empowered under the Act to lawfully remove persons to an approved centre. The need to amend the Mental Health Act 2001 arose from High Court proceedings where a patient sought and was granted a declaration that her removal to a psychiatric hospital was not in accordance with the Act.
The Mental Health (Amendment) Act 2015 introduced a significant change with regard to the administration of Electroconvulsive Therapy. Following the commencement of this Act, where a patient who has been admitted on an involuntarily basis, has capacity and refuses ECT, that patient’s wishes must now be respected. Up to that point, the Mental Health Act allowed for administration of ECT to people who were ‘unwilling’ to consent.
The Deputy will be aware that a comprehensive review of the 2001 Act by an Expert Group was published in 2015. The previous Government accepted the thrust of the Report of that Expert Group and approved the preparation of the General Scheme of a Bill to reflect the Report’s recommendations in revised mental health legislation.
The Review contains 165 recommendations and is progressive in nature. First and foremost, it sets out to promote and protect the rights of persons with mental illness. This is in addition to promoting access to the most appropriate and highest achievable standard of care and support.
The previous Government agreed with the broad thrust of the recommendations of the Expert Group Review and approved the preparation of the General Scheme of a bill to reflect changes in revised legislation. This work is underway at official level and is expected to be significantly progressed by mid-year. I acknowledge that progress on finalising this work has been slower than anticipated, but it is a complex undertaking and when changes are proposed on such a large scale, we must ensure they are made in a careful and considered manner.