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Mental capacity and Covid-19

mental capacity law

There have been some changes to the way that people lacking mental capacity are cared for during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UK Government has published guidance on the key points of the Mental Capacity Act (2005) and deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS) in England and Wales, and what has changed temporarily. The changes centre around how and how fast services are delivered to ensure the safety of vulnerable people.

The full explanation of the changes have been published both in English and in Welsh.

The Department of Health & Social Care has also produced an easy-to-read guide about the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards that apply during the coronavirus pandemic that’s aimed at the person who is being safeguarded.

All the documents, with guidelines and forms, are published on the UK government website. While aimed at those health and social care staff who are caring for someone who lacks relevant mental capacity, they are likely to be very useful to family supporters as well to give a greater understanding of the processes and aims.

Check the guidance above for the official explanation of how these processes work, but here’s a summary from us as we understand it.

What is the Mental Capacity Act 2005?

This is the law around how people who cannot make decisions for themselves – including those living with dementia or stroke – are cared for and treated.

The Act encourages carers and service providers to work with the individual to help them make and understand decisions around their care. They are expected to talk to the individual, consider what that person has said in the past about the sort of care they want, and to listen to the views of family and friends.

This includes taking account of any treatment that the individual has said in the past that they do not want.

When it comes to giving treatment, doctors should always ask the individual first – but can sometimes give treatment if the person is too unwell to agree to it.

How does Deprivation of Liberty fit in?

If an individual is considered unable to make decisions for themselves, then others may make decide on how to keep them safe.

People living in a care home or currently in hospital are covered by the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, which are written into an Authorisation.

Those living at home may be subject instead to a Court Order.

While those Authorisations and Court Orders already in place will not be affected by the pandemic, there are changes for the time being as to how these are set up.

What’s different during the pandemic?

There are changes to the way Authorisations are set up:

  • Instead of a meeting with care and health professionals to check if the Authorisation is correct, the discussion may take place on the phone or by video with the individual instead. They may still ask the views of friends and family.
  • Emergency Authorisations have been introduced to speed up the process. These Emergency Authorisations are effective immediately and last for up to 7 days, and can be extended for another 7 days if needed.
  • In normal circumstances someone from the local council or health board would check that the Authorisation is being managed properly but this may not happen during the pandemic.
  • If a person who cannot make decisions for themselves contracts the coronavirus, public health officers may get involved to ensure that they stay indoors.

Want to know more about the Mental Capacity Act and deprivation of liberty safeguards?

Find more of our articles on caring for family and friends during the Covid-19 crisis.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

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