The Mental Health Act 1983 is, obviously, the law. It's a "statutory instrument" that contains provision to detain people with mental health problems and unmet needs in hospital (even though they don't wish to be there). There's a Code of Practice that tells us how we're to use the MHA 1983.
A couple points are worthy of mention.
When I was a trainee doctor, we'd get shredded for talking of "sectioning" someone. We were instead to speak of "detaining someone under section blah" which at the time seemed pedantic thought control. One Royal College examiner said he'd failed a candidate for such talk. With hindsight it's sitting increasingly well with me, but p'raps I'm simply becoming more pedantic as time marches on. Being less glib and more professional is important, though.
I've never detained anyone. Well, technically not. I've made medical recommendations. Approved Social Workers have made applications to hospital managers for a patient to be detained. Hospital Managers have agreed to detain the patient in their hospital.
It shouldn't be.
Nurses have to be the patient's advocate, the NMC says so. Curiously, the GMC doesn't have anything like that directing doctors but most of us do feel we have such a role. As such, when we're advocating that a patient has a right to get the help they need and deserve it's useful to be part of the decision making process rather than be painted wholly as the prison warden. We don't detain people, we make recommendations for their care then social workers and hospital managers detain them if that's necessary. As such we can continue to focus on their care. A seemingly tiny point, but such things shift the culture and philosophy of mental health units from paternalistic/abusive to collaborative/clinically driven.
Anyway, I'm a civilian. Should I be locking people up?
Least restrictive setting
We've got to manage patients in the least restrictive setting. Hospital in-patient care should be for folk who have needs that can only be addressed through hospital care and increasingly these are far and few between . . . what can be done in a hospital that teams can't do in the community? There are assessments and interventions, of course. But typically it's rare that there's specific work that a hospital admission does that couldn't be done in the community (which is self evident, given that 1/4 of the population will at some point in their lives experience mental illness, but so few reach Secondary Care services let alone in-patient admission).
Hands up who thinks detaining people is just about hospitals? A not uncommon scenario for me is of someone with dementia who's been diagnosed and treatment's been optomised but they can't manage in the community despite having lots of support. One elderly lady this Summer became more confused at night, thinking since it was light that 9.00pm was 9.00am. She was helped to bed at 8.00pm by home care and would then rise to wander around the street through the night - living on a busy main road made this particularly unsafe. She'd been active at night for many months, it got worse, what were we to do? She was adamant that she wanted to stay at home.
Section 7 of the MHA 1983 lets the local Social Services authority force someone to reside at a specific address (e.g. you now live at Care Home X). As this is then the law, if they leave police are obliged to return them to this property. They're also compelled to attend out-patient clinics, any medical reviews and even non-medical meetings such as job centre attendance, going to a specific place of work, or having to attend specific evening classes as well as having no choice where they live.
All this seems pretty heavy, doesn't it? What I find more perturbing is that the protection patients have within the MHA 1983 are pretty good. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is far more widely reaching (e.g. allowing community treatment orders against the patient's wishes) but has none of the scrutiny, no need for 2 doctors/doctors with specialist training and experience, no rights of appeal to hospital managers and a Mental Health Review Tribunal and no review dates. Scary.