24th February 2015

Professionals who work with mental health issues will be counting down the days until April 1st, when some much anticipated changes to the Mental Health Act 1983 are to come into force.

A revised Code of Practice – also referred to as “the Code”  – has been prepared and passed through parliament by the Secretary of State for Health after taking into account stakeholders’ views during a consultation, and reflects changes in legislation, case law, policy and professional practice since its last revision in 2008.

The Code’s purpose and legal status is to provide statutory guidance to doctors, approved clinicians, managers and staff of providers and approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) on how they should proceed when undertaking duties under the Act.

As director and founder of The Athena Programme I feel it should be like an attached bible to everyday practice. It is essential that areas of practice are taken on board after consultation. The area of mental health and assessing capacity is crucial in terms of safeguarding a person’s rights, choices and vulnerabilities.

The Code is not enforceable, but will nonetheless prove hugely beneficial for practitioners in carrying out their duties. This includes commissioners of health services, the police and ambulance services, and others in health and social services, including health inspectors, community support and housing officers. It will provide crucial support for patients, their representatives, carers, families, friends, advocates and others who support them.

This ‘bible’ will undoubtedly influence how key workers interact with the likes of their local police force as in some instances people may well have been the victim of a crime. They may have been reported as missing or they may have experienced a mental health crisis, where they may be so ill that their safety, or the safety of others, could be at risk. They may well have committed a crime.

In these circumstances it is crucial that everyone works together. The sooner a link is formed between GP surgeries, Police stations and Mental Health Charities and Care teams, the sooner the gap will close for those who sadly sometimes fall between the gaps in our society.

There are also ethical human rights issues at stake if the Code isn’t consulted in many instances. At all times there are five overarching principles that must always be considered under the Code’s new guidance:

  • Least restrictive option and maximising independence – where it is possible to treat a patient safely and lawfully without detaining them under the Act, the patient should not be detained. Wherever possible a patient’s independence should be encouraged and supported with a focus on promoting recovery wherever possible.
  • Empowerment and involvement for patients – patients should be fully involved in decisions about care, support and treatment. The views of families, carers and others, if appropriate, should be fully considered when taking decisions.
  • Respect and dignity for patients, their families and carers
  • Purpose and effectiveness – decisions about care and treatment should be appropriate to the patient, with clear therapeutic aims, promote recovery and should be performed to current national guidelines and/or current, available best practice guidelines.
  • Efficiency and equity Providers – commissioners and other relevant organisations should work together to ensure that the quality of commissioning and provision of mental healthcare services are of high quality and are given equal priority to physical health and social care services.

We are entering a new era in the way in which we care for others and now that we continue to have the knowledge and understanding that each team needs to provide the best of care, by working together as a community of care practitioners we can hopefully eliminate any instances where those individuals who need us the most are not left without appropriate and timely support.

View the code of practice: