Is mental health finally emerging from the shadows into light?

By Dr Judy Laing, Reader in Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (University of Bristol Law School).

Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20th May) is a good opportunity for us to reflect on how far mental health has emerged from the shadows over the last decade. For too long, mental health has been neglected in England and Wales, and this is particularly true for our main political parties, where up until quite recently, mental health has rarely featured in pre-election manifestos. There are now positive signs that this is changing and the nation’s mental health is now firmly on the political agenda.

As the King’s Fund identified in a report in 2015, mental health has finally become a political priority for the major political parties. We saw evidence of this in Theresa May’s Conservative party conference speech in October 2017, as she expressed her desire to tackle the injustice and stigma associated with mental health. This was accompanied by a government pledge to direct additional resources to frontline mental health services and staff. This rhetorical commitment to prioritise mental health is welcome and long overdue, but of course, it must be followed by clear action on the ground in terms of additional staff, services and support, if we are going to witness a radical change in the reality of life for the 1 in four of us who will suffer from a mental health problem each year. (more…)

Abortion rights in Northern Ireland

A comment on R (on the application of A and B) v Secretary of State for Health [2017] UKSC 41.

By Dr Sheelagh McGuinness, Senior Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Prof Keith Syrett, Professor of Law (University of Cardiff, School of Law and Politics).

The start of June 2017 saw abortion law in Northern Ireland (NI) making the news for several reasons. On June 9th, Theresa May announced that she intended to try and form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Members of this radically conservative party from NI have long been vocal in their opposition to abortion. Some feared that restrictions on abortion legislation might form part of negotiations between the two parties.  On June 13th, the Department of Health published ‘The Report on abortion statistics in England and Wales for 2016’ which contained details on the number of women who travelled from NI to England to access abortion care. Then, on June 14th, the Supreme Court handed down an important decision on NHS funding for women who travel from NI to England to access abortions. These women, save in exceptional cases, must pay for abortion care privately, notwithstanding their status as UK citizens and (in many cases) UK taxpayers. In this blog we examine the Supreme Court decision and the context within which women travel from NI to have abortions in England.

The case

In 2012 A, a 15-year-old girl, became pregnant. She did not want to continue with the pregnancy and with the support of her mother, B, arranged to have a termination in England. A and B were surprised to find out that as A was resident in NI she would have to pay for the termination in England. Believing this to be unfair B, on A’s behalf, started proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of this policy. Their challenge contained two key claims. First, that the Secretary of State for Health was acting unlawfully in refusing to permit women from NI to access NHS funded abortions [the public law claim]. Second, that women in NI were being discriminated against as compared to other women in the UK [the human rights claim].

A and B were unsuccessful in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal. Their appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed by a majority of 3:2. (more…)