Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Mental Health (Renewal Orders) Bill 2018: Second and Subsequent Stages
I have been here for over two years and in learning how the Oireachtas works, it is great to see that impetus can be given to something that is so urgent. We are often depleted by the slowness of legislation. This Bill is of utmost importance in that the courts have asked that this be done. It is a human and civil rights issue.
In treating mental health we went from the Lunacy Asylums Act 1875 through various lunacy laws to the Mental Health Act 1945 which was the first type of Act to make treatment of people with mental ill health, and especially those with enduring mental ill health, fit for purpose for its time. We attempted to modernise the treatment.
We made significant contributions to the Mental Health Act 2001, trying to understand the Act, its flaws and what we could do to improve on it. As nurses we were delighted to see its implementation in November 2006. We knew there needed to be much more freedom and justice in order for our patients not to live any longer under a draconian cosh and be thought of as hopeless cases who were ignored and put into what we called "back wards", although the technical term was rehabilitation wards, where they faced incarceration, in most cases for the rest of their lives. As young nurses we were beginning to take on board what human rights, freedom, choice and disability involved. We were trying to embrace these and encourage voices to be heard to allow healing with either time or treatment and allow a life to be led; for a patient not to be a lunatic forever.
At the time we were so busy trying to implement this new freedom for our patients that we overlooked the idea that it was okay to rubber-stamp somebody into an asylum for another 12 months, without too much difficulty. We accepted that and it was not questioned. It was a throwback to the time in the 1800s and early 1900s in this country where a relative could put somebody into an asylum where he or she would be incarcerated for the rest of his or her life.We did it in a different way but we did not question it because there was so much happening, and that is not to excuse ourselves for having overlooked it. The court has been diligent in pointing it out and telling us we need to change. We are in a time where we are looking at our attitudes to disability, mental ill-health, well-being and an inclusive country where each person is valued, where we are all different and where we celebrate that diversity.
I welcome this Bill and the urgency attached to it. There are no hopeless cases in our country and we need to respect each and every person. We have come a long way but we have much further to go. As the Minister of State knows, there is an urgent need for the complete overhaul of the Mental Health Act 2001. Deputy Buckley, who I work closely with, is in the Public Gallery. His advance healthcare directive Bill will modernise this society and make it fit for purpose and make it a place we want to live in and in which we will expect that we are included and are given our human rights. We have the mental health tribunals but that is something for another day. We have the legal representation but that is just there for due process so that the process is carried out; it is not a voice for the patient. We need patient advocacy, education and access to information on how to appeal and tribunals. We need information on what to expect of an appointed solicitor. Unfortunately, in most cases and at great cost, the appointed solicitors' make sure due process is carried out and the boxes are ticked but the voice of the patient is very seldom heard. I welcome and congratulate the Minister of Sate on introducing this Bill speedily.