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The Mental Capacity Act

29th July 2008

Rowan Myron, associate head of research for the Mental Health Foundation, argues that the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act are taking root too slowly on the front line.

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Nine months after the Mental Capacity Act came into force, progress is worryingly slow.

Heralded as an important piece of legislation, it is designed to protect everyone's right to make their own decisions whenever possible and clarify good practice for health and social care staff.

Yet every decision, and every person, is different so assessing capacity must be an "ongoing and open-minded process." A consequence is that carers not only need to be clear on how to make those decisions, but also be confident about the new guidelines and their obligations.

The Department of Health circular saying that the cultural shift towards this had hardly begun was worrying. It also conceded that only about half those who should have been referred to an independent mental capacity advocate had been.

More significantly, these omissions are breaches of the law.

However, this position is hardly surprising after the Mental Health Foundation and Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities found last year that staff felt under-prepared for the Act.

There are things that can be done: ensuring coherent strategies are in place to communicate guidance and training about the act to frontline staff; an audit of current knowledge and training; and more resources to support services users and carers in making decisions about care.

With so much hard work having gone into the Act it would be a tragedy if it "stalled at the implementation stage."

 

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