Royal Assent given to first restraint Act of Parliament

Article 39 is delighted that Royal Assent has been given to the UK’s first Act of Parliament dedicated to protecting children and adults from abusive restraint.

The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 is known as Seni’s Law, after 23 year-old Seni Lewis who died after being restrained by 11 police officers called to the Bethlem Royal hospital in London on 31 October 2010. Seni, an IT graduate, had been admitted to the hospital as a voluntary patient.

  • Last year, 9,296 people were subject to physical restraint in a mental health, learning disabilities or autism service in England; the total number of physical restraints was 53,188 – giving an average of 6 restraints per person.
  • There were 19,078 incidents of physical restraint among 1,198 children and young people (under the age of 20 years) – giving an average of 16 restraints per child and young person. This is nearly three times the overall average.
  • Prone restraint is when a person is held face down onto a surface. There were 3,405 incidents of prone restraint on children and young people (under 20 years old) in England in 2016/17. For all ages, the figure was 10,071, meaning that 34% of face-down restraint were used on children and young people.

With YoungMinds, INQUEST and others, we have been working on the legislation as it made its journey through Parliament.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, states:

“This Act of Parliament will massively strengthen child protection within mental health units. Children in these settings are, by definition, extremely poorly and vulnerable, and restraint continues to be used much too frequently and not as a last resort. We offer our utmost respect to the family of Seni Lewis whose courageous fight for justice has ensured child and adult patients have legal rights to dignified, respectful and safe care.” 

Three provisions in the legislation which Article 39 specifically pushed for:

  • Section 5(2)(i) requires that staff training relating to the use of force includes the impact of restraint on a patient’s development. We would have preferred the wording ‘child’s development’ but the meaning is the same – training must specifically include the effects of use of force on children’s development.
  • Section 6(5)(m) requires a description of the outcome of the use of force to be recorded – this means that any injuries and/or psychological harm suffered by children (and adults) will be noted.
  • Section 6(5)(p) requires that records about the use of force indicate whether parents (or others in a patient’s care plan) were notified after each use of force. This is a vital safeguard for vulnerable children who may not tell their parents (or the local authority if they are in care) if they have been restrained. This duty will also benefit adult patients.

Article 39 wanted more protections to be included in the primary legislation but we are very reassured that the Department of Health has agreed that the statutory guidance will specifically – and separately – address the rights and needs of children in mental health units.

We look forward to working on the guidance over the next 12 months, and hope the Government will commence the legislation at the earliest opportunity. (Once an Act of Parliament gains Royal Assent, unless it states otherwise, it is up to Ministers to decide when it will come into force).