The mental capacity act was only introduced in the year of 2005, which was something that has been long overdue. This is a guideline policy designed to empower and protect individuals who may have otherwise been stigmatised, and their choices limited because others may have deemed them as not being capable of making their own choices in life.
Here is the understandable and easy read version of the mental capacity act and it’s principles.
Why was the mental capacity act brought in?
The mental capacity act was introduced in order to remove any grey areas regarding a person’s capacity. Before it was introduced, there has been so many occasions where individuals have been wrongly judged as not having capacity because of a diagnosis.
For example, I worked in the healthcare industry prior to 2005 as a support worker. My speciality at that time was autism and I had the privilege of supporting four young adults, each with their own spectrum of autism. The unfortunate reality at that time is that because these people had a diagnosis of autism, they automatically had some of their rights taken away because it was assumed that they lacked the capacity to do so.
One of the guys we supported always had to have someone with him when he went out in the community because it was assumed that he lacked the capacity to go out on his own, there was nothing to legally protect us if anything happened to him when he went out so we couldn’t take a risk by making the decision to let him go on his own. Can you imagine being followed around 24/7 and never be left alone no matter where you went? Now imagine you had autism, how much worse it must have been for him to handle.
Thanks to the mental capacity act, he has now been deemed to have the capacity, despite the fact that he makes “unwise decisions.” The truism that was obvious to everyone, but nobody could do anything about, was that we all make unwise decisions a lot of the time. Should our right to make those unwise decisions be taken away?
This is just one example out of millions of cases pre 2005 which needed to be addressed. While there is still a lot of stigma among the public, in the healthcare sector things have changed dramatically. Now people who have been diagnosed with autism, mental health problems, dementia, learning difficulties and much more have been freed from the shackles of assumption.
What if someone is deemed to lack capacity?
If an individual has been tested and does not have the capacity, then a best interests meeting will be held. The aim of this is to determine in which areas the person does not have the capacity in some areas and to support them in a way which is the least restrictive for them.
Just because someone lacks capacity does not mean that all of their independence should be stripped from them. The main goal now is to find a way to empower them despite their ailments. This could mean concealing medication so that they are getting the help they need pharmaceutically, or it could mean that they are restricted as to where they can go on their own for their own safety.
One example would be someone who has learning difficulties. They may not understand the road signs which makes it dangerous for them to cross the road on their own, in this case, they would have a support worker with them to help them navigate and explore the world safely.
Legally speaking, if a company is responsible for the care of someone who lacks capacity, they have the right to make decisions on their behalf in the area which they need support. This can only be for their welfare and is only specific to the areas where the individual requires support to make decisions.
In other words, if our person with learning difficulties needs support crossing the road safely, that does not mean he needs us to support him and make decisions for him in every other area. He may be very capable when it comes to dressing himself for example so we would promote and encourage that person to dress without support.
Mental Capacity Advocates
When someone lacks capacity, by law they will need to have an advocate to speak on their behalf. This is to prevent misunderstandings and safeguards that person from being taken advantage of. It is the responsibility of the advocate to ensure that the person who lacks capacity has all of his support needs in place correctly.
They will be liaising with support workers, social workers, health professionals and the council so that the individual has all of their needs met. This includes emotional and physical wellbeing, promoting independence, eating well and having access to the community.
Balancing these needs for the individuals can be challenging but that is why so many people are involved at each time. No matter how severe the person’s lack of capacity is, there is always something that can be done for them so that they can get the best out of life. As long as all of the people involved care enough and can use their creativity to solve problems then there is always a solution.