The vast majority of health and social care staff want a better understanding of mental capacity legislation aimed at protecting vulnerable patients, according to a new survey.
The 2005 Mental Capacity Act sets out when, and how, patients can be detained, restricted or receive treatment without their consent, where it is deemed to be in their best interests.
Nearly nine out of 10 professionals taking part in a snapshot poll in England and Wales said their knowledge of the legislation was not as good as they would like it to be, despite 86% saying they have had to assess whether a person is capable of making their own decisions.
More than half of the respondents (56%) believed that knowledge and application around the act was “average to low”.
“The pressures that people are under can lead to information overload”
Nearly all (96%) said expert guidance would provide confidence in the workplace.
More than two thirds were concerned about fines and reputational damage resulting from non-compliance with the legislation.
The complexity of the law can create confusion, according to Mike Hostick, a mental health nurse and chief executive officer of Desuto, the company that carried out the survey, which also provides online tools to support compliance with the legislation.
“The pressures that people are under can lead to information overload,” said Mr Hostick.
He stressed that all nurses needed to know about their legal duties, not just those working in mental health settings.
For example, hospital nurses must be sure not to treat patients – such as those with learning difficulties - without their consent, unless specific processes are followed, he said.
The findings from the snap survey – based on responses from 100 health and social care workers who use the legislation in their work, including nurses - come at the same time that applications under the act to place restrictions on patients has risen to an all-time high.
A Care Quality Commission report published last month highlighted official data from NHS Digital that revealed Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLs) applications rose to 195, 840 last year – the highest ever number. Of those, nearly three quarters (73%) were approved.
The report - The state of health care are adult social care in England 2015/6 - said there were “pockets of good practice” but that some hospitals and care home providers were failing to adequately fulfil their obligations under the act.
It found that better training, clear policies, consistent documentation and a culture of “person-centred care” led to improved compliance.
The Department of Health has asked the Law Commission to review how DoLs applications should be regulated, and a report is expected in December.