Mental Health Foundation: BME groups face capacity act barriers

Black and minority ethnic people may be missing out on the benefits of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 due to lack of awareness, the Mental Health Foundation warned today.

A report by the charity identifies a number of reasons why BME communities have failed to take advantage of the Act’s provisions. 

The Act provides a legal framework to empower vulnerable people to make decisions for themselves or, if they are found to lack capacity, to ensure decisions taken on their behalf are done in their best interests.

Key elements of Act

Key provisions include:-

  • Allowing people to appoint attorneys to take decisions on their behalf on finance, property, health and welfare, should they lose capacity.
  • Enabling a new Court of Protection to appoint deputies to manage the same range of affairs for people who already lack capacity.
  • A new role of independent mental capacity advocate (IMCA). IMCAs advocate for people who lack capacity and have no friends or family to speak up for them, in decisions concerning medical treatment or accommodation moves.

The MHF report, funded by the Department of Health and the Social Care Institute for Excellence, said the Act dealt with subjects that were considered taboo in some cultures, such as mental health, finances and death, creating barriers to engagement.

It also found that efforts to raise awareness of the Act with BME groups had been inadequate, with awareness raising regarding the IMCA scheme focused on staff, for instance. 

Confusion about IMCA role

As a result some people from BME groups were confused about the role, and also felt IMCA services were delivered by organisations with little or no links to their communities.

Translating the concepts of the Act into other languages had also proved problematic.

The report’s recommendations included independent research on and monitoring of the use of the Act by BME communities and how far it was benefiting them, and a strategy to raise awareness of the Act, working with local groups and community development workers.

The latter have been appointed by primary care trusts to bridge the gap between BME communities and mental health services. However, Community Care recently learned that an original target to appoint 500 by December 2006 was likely to be missed by almost three years.

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