A loophole in mental health law has been closed by parliament, after it was revealed that the legal process used to detain more than 5,000 patients in England and Wales was flawed.
Under the Mental Health Act 1983, doctors are entitled to detain patients against their will for the protection of either themselves or others. The legal authority to do this is conferred by sections two and three of the Mental Health Act, leading to the phrase 'sectioning', which literally refers to detaining someone under a section.
The sectioning process requires two doctors and an 'approved mental health practitioner' (AMHP) to agree that the use of legal powers is necessary. Approved mental health practitioners are nurses, social workers, occupational therapists or psychologists approved to carry out functions under the Mental Health Act.
The loophole concerned this approval process, which legally must be carried out by the Secretary of State or a legally delegated body. In 2002, the Secretary of State for health delegated this approval process to Strategic Health Authorities. However they then delegated this process to mental health trusts, without requiring final approval.
The result of the blip is that approvals made by mental health trusts in four of ten areas in the UK have not been formally approved by law, and could therefore be legally challenged.
The newly promoted Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, asked parliament to pass emergency legislation, effectively legalising the approval of the mental health trusts. He has also ordered an independent review into the matter.
"We believe that all the proper clinical processes were gone through when these patients were detained" Mr Hunt told reporters.
"They were detained by medically qualified doctors. We believe that no one is in hospital who shouldn't be and no patients have suffered because of this" he added.
Mental health loophole 'closed' (BBC News)