Prime minister Theresa May has pledged to scrap the “flawed” Mental Health Act and replace it with new legislation if the Conservatives are re-elected.

In her first major policy announcement of the general election campaign, Ms May is announcing today that she will “rip up” the existing act to tackle the fact that too many people are being detained under the legislation.

The move would represent a major shake up of mental health regulation and forms part of a package of mental health policy reforms announced by the prime minister today.

She promised that one of her earliest priorities if re-elected on 8 June will be to scrap the Mental Health Act 1983 and introduce a new Mental Health Treatment Bill.

Ms May said her new law would confront discrimination and unnecessary detentions under the existing act which is “outdated and unfit for purpose”.

She added: “On my first day in Downing Street last July, I described shortfalls in mental health services as one of the burning injustices in our country.

“It is abundantly clear to me that the discriminatory use of a law passed more than three decades ago is a key part of the reason for this.

“So today I am pledging to rip up the 1983 Act and introduce in its place a new law which finally confronts the discrimination and unnecessary detention that takes place too often.”

HSJ understands the legislation may not be part of a new Conservative government’s first Queen’s Speech, as timing will depend on consultation and how quickly details can be decided.

The number of people detained under the Mental Health Act has risen by about 30 per cent in recent years from 48,600 in 2011-12 to 63,600 in 2015-16. Black people are up to six times more likely to be detained under the existing act, Downing Street said.

It is not clear what other parts of the existing act will be amended or revised, but the Tories have pledged to enshrine parity of esteem into the sector through the new Mental Health Treatment Bill by:

  • Revising the thresholds for detention, to prevent it being over-used;
  • Introducing new codes of practice to reduce the disproportionate use of mental health detention for minority groups; and
  • Improving safeguards so that when people with mental health problems have the capacity to give or refuse consent, they can never be treated against their will.

As well as scrapping the Mental Health Act, Ms May today pledges to:

  • Reform the Equality Act 2010 so that employees are no longer only protected from discrimination over mental health problems such as depression and anxiety if they have the condition more than a year;
  • Employ 10,000 more staff in the mental health sector by 2020;
  • Invest £2m to expand the secondary school mental health first aid programme announced in her speech in January into primary schools as well;
  • Provide each school with a single point of contact with mental health services;
  • Change the curriculum to include more information about mental wellbeing – specifically in relation to staying safe online and cyber bullying;
  • Change Health and Safety at Work regulations to require large organisation to train mental health first responders as well as physical first aiders;
  • End the practice of GPs being able to charge indebted patients up to £150 for a mental health and debt form to prove they are mentally ill; and
  • Committing to fund the Samaritans helpline for the duration of the next parliament.

Mental health has been Ms May’s main personal priority in health since she became prime minister last year. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has taken on the ministerial portfolio for mental health and told HSJ in October that children’s mental health services were the “biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision”.

Labour’s hadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley said: “The Tories have not delivered on their promise to give mental health the same priority as physical health. They appear to be offering no extra funding and have consistently raided mental health budgets over the last seven years.

“Warm words from the Tories will not help to tackle the injustice of unequal treatment in mental health.”