We had a virtual chat with our MPs. Here's what happened
We have long said that the Mental Health Act is outdated and must be reformed. Our campaigners agree. As part of our work to improve the Mental Health Act, we have been asking campaigners to have a virtual chat with their MP to discuss their experiences of it. Here, our Oxford Campaigners Group co-ordinator, Frances, tells us more about how their meeting with MPs went and explains some advice she has for others thinking of doing the same.
We wanted to be in contact with MPs to remind them that we are still waiting for a White Paper, which will kick-start the reform of the Mental Health Act (having waited two years since the publication of the Independent Review). So, we thought about those MPs we already had had along to meetings.
We were already meeting by Zoom, in fact we were having more meetings by Zoom than face to face. So we invited Layla Moran, Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Anneliese Dodds, Labour MP for Oxford East and Robert Courts, Conservative MP for Witney, to come and meet us. Just a simple email. And all three responded positively. It helps of course that they didn’t have to travel anywhere and can fit a Zoom meeting into their busy day without fuss.
We had a useful meeting by Zoom with Layla’s specialist researcher and then separate meetings with Anneliese and Robert. They were happy for us to take photos, which they also can use of course.
Both meetings were relaxed and informal and friendly. We were really pushing against an open door when we asked the MPs along and invited them to consider our concerns. They have after all been dealing with real constituents during the pandemic and know that mental health is so important.
We talked about the Mental Health Act and our experiences; it always helps to hear real stories. This included care after being in hospital and access to Section 117 aftercare – as well as mention of the problems surrounding funding of mental health care. After all, better care in the community would mean that expensive hospital stays might be avoided. We talked about the problem of substitution of medications by cheaper equivalents, which are not always equivalent in terms of how they are experienced by those who take them. We also talked about benefits and the difficulty of claiming them and the problems around training of staff which lead to lack of understanding. We even touched on transport, as Robert’s constituency is a rural one with few buses.
What particularly impressed us is that detailed notes were taken, and the MPs and their offices went away with specific tasks to do for us.
What particularly impressed us is that detailed notes were taken, and the MPs and their offices went away with specific tasks to do for us. For example, checking on the date of the White Paper, asking for information from colleagues who would know more, asking questions in the relevant departments. It felt really productive and worthwhile.
Consequently, we are also planning on contacting other MPs, now we have been encouraged.
In conclusion, the message is: Get in touch with your MP - they will be really glad to hear from you. Include constituents - but they will also be happy to have other people there who are not necessarily constituents.
And talk about what you believe in and want to happen, they are there to represent us!