More than half of health and social care professionals are failing to comply with the Mental Capacity Act 2005’s requirements when conducting assessments of capacity.
A study by the Mental Health Foundation revealed 52% of professionals were assuming that service users did not have capacity before conducting an assessment. This is directly contrary to the first of five principles spelled out in the act, which says people are assumed to have capacity until it can be proven otherwise.
In addition, 38% of respondents said they conducted an assessment because of a service user’s disability or illness and not because of any problems the person had making a decision, as is intended by the act. A further 25% said they conducted an assessment simply because they felt the service user’s decision was unwise, which is contrary to another of the act’s principles – the right of individuals to make eccentric or unwise decisions.
The figures were drawn from responses from 1,500 professionals to the Mental Health Foundation’s online Assessment of Mental Capacity Audit Tool, set up to allow health and social care staff to self-assess how they are implementing the act.
Toby Williamson, head of development and later life at the Foundation, said: “There appears to be a high and worrying level of misunderstanding surrounding the reasons for undertaking an assessment in the first place. Some professionals working in health and social care are therefore carrying out assessments in contravention of the fundamental principles of the act.”
Williamson added that more training was needed to ensure the principles of the act were applied correctly on the ground.
The act, which was passed in 2005, 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.