For best interests assessors (BIAs), being able to thoroughly explain and evidence their conclusions about whether someone is being deprived of their liberty in their best interests is vital because their report might be used in court.
Community Care Inform Adult’s new guide to report writing for best interests assessors – by Javeda Jafri and Rita Panayides – is full of advice. Here we’ve picked out some of the guide’s tips to help BIAs polish their reports.
- Focus on the fact that you are assessing an individual
Even people who, on paper, seem similar, have had different lives, made different choices, had varying experiences of childhood, parenthood, relationships, work, loss, physical health and so on. To stop looking at, and looking for, an individual’s experiences and wishes and just churn out a report is not good enough.
- Ask the right questions
Consider what questions to ask otherwise the answers you get may not give you information of any value. What facts are relevant to your enquiry?
- Be aware of your audience
Bear in mind that the managing authority (hospital or care home); the relevant person; the relevant person’s representative (RPR); any independent mental capacity advocate (IMCA) involved; and every interested person you consulted in carrying out your assessment will receive a copy of your report. If there was a legal challenge your report might also be read by lawyers or judges.
- Write in plain English
Reports should be written in plain English, avoiding unnecessary “professional speak” and in particular avoiding language that may be dehumanising or cause additional distress to the person or their family. The report must be evidence based so that the supervisory body and signatory are clear that the deprivation of liberty is both necessary and proportionate.
- Include background information
This should include a pen picture of the person (such as an overview of who they are as an individual and as part of a family and also their current needs including brief history and current description, for example, diagnosis, sensory impairment, physical health problems, etc). There should be a description of the environment they are living in (type of institution, number of residents, etc); when they were admitted and under what circumstances (including who has determined where they live); and whether it is a temporary or permanent arrangement. But it should not be a life story.
- Record everything
Document the views of everyone you consult on the person’s care and any information you can obtain about their past and present wishes, belief and values. It’s a good idea to take notes during all conversations you have as part of your assessment. Informal contemporaneous notes may serve as aide-memoires or even as crucial evidence of how you made decisions if any of your conclusions are questioned.
- Use the balance-sheet approach
Use the balance-sheet approach which involves weighing up and analysing the burdens and benefits of all available options; although only the actual and reasonably foreseeable options available.
- Base reasoning on the law
Ensure your reasoning is based on the law and code of practice. A good BIA report will demonstrate that you have considered the principles of the Mental Capacity Act 20015 and the best interests checklist.