Short Life Mental Health Legislation Commencement Consideration Group minutes: January 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 25 January 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Arun Chopra, MWC
  • Jennifer Whyte, Mental Health Tribunal Scotland 
  • Martin McKenna, SCTS


  • Bob Leslie, Social Work Scotland
  • John Crichton, Royal College of Psychiatrists


  • Hugh McAloon, SG (Chair)
  • Ruth Wilson, SG

Items and actions

Consideration of evidence for commencement of temporary amendments within the UK Coronavirus Act 2020

The Chair opened the meeting and turned to only item on the agenda, the consideration of evidence and intelligence on how the mental health system is operating under current circumstances.

There was a general discussion regarding the trend in activity and the following points were noted in discussion:

  • the Mental Health Tribunal reported that overall they are managing to meet all deadlines but that they are also working at full capacity. Whilst the majority of hearings are still being held virtually they are, and have been able to provide face to face hearings as and when require and to date they recently facilitated three physical hearings
  • again the number of applications are on the rise however there appears to be a higher number of those requiring a hearing for the 1st time. This does impact on the level of resource required to prepare for a hearing as they can sometimes be more complex at the outset
  • on the staffing front they report that they are recruiting to help maximise resource in order to minimise and mitigate any potential disruption to their day to day operations. However while they are also able to make tactical use of other resource they remain mindful of the need to balance that against the need to ensure staff welfare
  • the Mental Welfare Commission report that there is an increase in the nature of enquiries they are receiving which indicate the concerns people have re shielding etc. These type of calls had been prevalent last April and then dipped off over summer however this throws up the question of whether this is linked to people once again feeling they can only contact services on urgent matters and the need to keep to the physical distancing guidance. Overall though it appears the Act is being used in the way in which it was intended

The Group received written evidence from the following who were unable to attend the actual meeting:

  • Social Work Scotland information shows that there continues to be a steady stream in the number of short term detentions taking place under mental health legislation and also a rise in those moving to CTO’s. There remains pressures on MHO availability which in turn leaves services vulnerable should there be another spike in activity over the coming months. Overall the demands on services and resources remain high and it would not take much to tip the balance 
  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists report that their members remain extremely busy due to pressures as a result of Covid-19. These include increased demand on mental health services and increased staff absences. These pressures have not gotten to the point at which the emergency measures in Schedule 9 are needed. Nonetheless, they are still mindful that the peak rate of infections has yet to be reached, and that pressures on staffing over such a long and continued period mean that the Schedule 9 measures could be needed in the event of staff shortages creating delays in the system and endangering patient’s lives. While the news regarding the roll out of vaccinations was welcomed, they urged a word of caution as it will still take time to implement and therefore the pressure on the workforce as a whole are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future

The Group overall noted that the pandemic remains very challenging and acknowledged that we are now in winter, which traditionally is a pressurised time. However the current levels of operation of the AWI and Mental Health Acts merits a continued cautious approach in respect of the emergency provisions. They therefore recommend that those provisions contained within Schedule 9 of the UK Act continue to be retained, but not commenced.

The next meeting will take place on 10 February 2021.

Mental Health and Incapacity Law Unit
February 2021 

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