Tribunal squeezes time spent with clients, say Scottish professionals

Scotland’s Mental Health Tribunal is putting so many extra demands on professionals that it is limiting the time available to treat patients, managers have claimed.

Managers from Tayside, Ayrshire & Arran and Glasgow health boards told the Scottish parliament’s health committee last week that approved medical practitioners – mental health officers and consultant psychiatrists who give evidence at tribunal hearings – were spending far more time than expected on tribunal work.

Cases previously dealt with in 30 minutes by Sheriff courts were now taking half a day at the tribunal, said David Hewitson, a former chair of the British Association of Social Workers Scotland’s mental health officers forum.

He said: “It is right that we should be quizzed but some tribunals can go into things in massive detail.” He called for changes in legislation “to streamline some of the procedures”.

Hewitson added that the tribunal had issued a large number of interim compulsory orders, meaning staff had to appear at a further hearing weeks later.

A Scottish executive official told the committee it was still reviewing the tribunal’s impact on social work.

The committee, which is reviewing mental health funding, also heard that research by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health had found that poor mental health in Scotland generates £8.6bn in associated social and economic costs. But health and
social services spending on these problems only amounts to 18 per cent of the costs.

Shona Neil, head of the Scottish Association for Mental Health, which commissioned the research,said many of the costs were attributed to amounts claimed in benefits and lost employment.

The findings will be unveiled next month.

The Mental Health Tribunal
● The tribunal went live on 5 October 2005.
● It makes decisions on the compulsory care and treatment of people with mental health problems.
● The tribunal was expected to handle up to 5,000 cases in its first year.
● Cases last half a day on average.
● Panels are made up of a legal, medical and general member.

Additional information
The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health

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