The government has said its “ambition” is to ensure that all qualified social workers are trained in the Mental Capacity Act and have the skills to carry out best interest decisions.
The government’s official response to a House of Lords committee report on the Mental Capacity Act said that the goal of training all social workers in the Act “will not be realised overnight” but committed to setting up a working group tasked with scoping out ways of improving the availability and of MCA training. The working group will provide recommendations by the end of 2014.
The report said: “The government’s ambition for the future is that all qualified social workers will have received training in the Mental Capacity Act. A social worker must be able to conduct best interests decisions to fulfill their professional obligations as is the same for all qualified health and social care professionals. Clearly this ambition will not be realised overnight and the first priority is to scope out how MCA training can be made more widely (and more economically) available.”
In a bid to improve use of the Act among the profession, Lyn Romeo, the chief social worker for adults, will also write to the sector “stressing the importance of the MCA as an essential tool in modern social work”, the government said. Romeo will also invite feedback on how social workers can “lead” a change in social care culture to embrace the Act.
“Specifically, the government recognises the need for more qualified best interests assessors. A sufficient number of best interest assessors is an essential prerequisite of full implementation of the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards. But best interests decisions are a fundamental part of the entire Mental Capacity Act and of all social work with adults where capacity is an issue,” the report said.
In response to calls from peers to produce tailored practice guidance on the MCA for practitioners, including social workers, the government said it would commission the Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie) to conduct a review of existing guidance, reporting before the end of the year.
This would identify the best available materials for each group of practitioners and any gaps in existing guidance, which the government said would then be filled.
The Scie review would also determine what, if any, amendments or additions were required to the MCA code of practice, which professionals, including social workers, have a duty to have regard to.
There have been longstanding calls for the MCA code of practice, which social workers and professionals must have regard to, to be reviewed. In December 2013, in evidence to the House of Lords committee, former justice minister Lord McNally said civil servants had started reviewing the code but progress had been slow.
But in its response to the Lords, the government said the Scie review would determine what, if any, amendments or additions were needed to the code, which it said was still “a valuable and respected source of guidance for professionals”.
The House of Lords committee report, published in March, recommended that the government set up an independent body to oversee implementation of the MCA. The government’s response rejects that recommendation and instead only commits to considering setting up an advisory board with an independent chair.
“The establishment of a new ‘quango’ may lead some to leave responsibility for all of this to someone else as well as diverting resources away from frontline organisations providing services to the public,” the government response stated.
The government’s response also rejected a recommendation from peers to scrap the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards and replace it with a system that was simpler and more grounded in the principles of the MCA. Read our full coverage of that decision here.
A government spokesperson said: “We are determined to make sure the Mental Capacity Act is used properly to protect everyone receiving care and support. The House of Lords’ Inquiry highlighted cases where people have been unlawfully deprived of their rights, which is why we are working with professionals to make sure the Act is used properly.”