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Changes in the use of the Mental Health Act 1983 in England 1984/85 to 2015/16

  • Patrick Keown (a1), Hannah Murphy (a1), Dannielle McKenna (a1) and Iain McKinnon (a1)

Concerns have been raised about the increase in the use of involuntary detentions under the Mental Health Act in England over a number of years, and whether this merits consideration of legislative change.


To investigate changes in the rate of detentions under Part II (civil) and Part III (forensic) sections of the Mental Health Act in England between 1984 and 2016.


Retrospective analysis of data on involuntary detentions from the National Archives and NHS Digital. Rates per 100 000 population were calculated with percentage changes. The odds of being formally admitted to a National Health Service hospital compared with a private hospital were calculated for each year.


Rates of detention have at least trebled since the 1980s and doubled since the 1990s. This has been because of a rise in Part II (civil) sections. Although the overall rate of detentions under Part III (forensic) sections did not rise, transfers from prison increased and detentions by the courts reduced. The odds of being detained in a private hospital increased fivefold.


The move to community-based mental health services in England has paradoxically led to an increase in the number of people being detained in hospital each year, and in particular an inexorable rise in involuntary admissions. This is likely to be partly because of improved case finding with an increased focus on treatment and risk management, and partly because of changes in legislation. An increasing proportion of this government-funded care is being provided by private hospitals.

Declaration of interest


Corresponding author
Correspondence: Iain McKinnon, Academic Psychiatry, Campus for Ageing & Vitality, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 5PL, UK. Email:
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Changes in the use of the Mental Health Act 1983 in England 1984/85 to 2015/16

  • Patrick Keown (a1), Hannah Murphy (a1), Dannielle McKenna (a1) and Iain McKinnon (a1)
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