Andy Bell and Jo Wilton
In its report on the Government’s draft Mental Health Bill, a Committee of MPs and Peers made a new recommendation for the establishment of a Mental Health Commissioner for England. But what would this role look like, and how could it benefit the public?
This briefing explores the opportunity for the creation of a new statutory Mental Health Commissioner, drawing on international evidence from Commissions in other countries.
The statutory role of Mental Health Commissioner already exists in Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. We have explored how these bodies work and what we could learn from experience elsewhere about how something like it could add value in England. While the model varies widely in each country, we explored the purpose, location, statutory role and independence, among other features.
A Mental Health Commissioner for England would add a new dimension to government that would benefit all of us. They would offer sustained leadership for mental health – complementary to existing roles and structures in government.
By helping to put mental health at the heart of government, the Commissioner could change the ways decisions get made – supported by a ‘mental health policy test’ that could be used by all departments to improve their impact on the nation’s wellbeing. And by establishing the role in perpetuity, mental health would no longer be a topic that waxed and waned in its profile and importance within government, reliant on short-term interest or hard-won attention.
Creating a Mental Health Commissioner for England would require legislation to secure sufficient powers, and independence to fulfil its evident potential, while keeping it distinct from the CQC and other existing bodies. A new Mental Health Act would enable this – but it could equally be legislated for on its own. This may be an idea whose time has come.