Understanding the principles of the Mental Capacity Act is essential for any treatment or support for someone who has (or appears to have) difficulty making informed decisions about their care.
This is something that seems to have gained prominence in recent months, with updated guidance from the Care Quality Commission in October 2017. The current guidance calls for staff to be able to “identify situations where the Mental Capacity Act may be relevant and know what steps to take to maximise and assess a person’s capacity. If a person’s capacity is impaired, staff must know how to ensure that decisions made on the person’s behalf are in their best interests.”
What is the Mental Capacity Act (MCA)?
The Mental Capacity ACT 2005 (MCA) states that every individual has the right to make their own decisions and provides the framework for this to happen.
In order to make a decision, we need to understand information, remember it for long enough, think about the information and communicate our decision.
However, a person’s ability to do these things might be affected by things like learning disability, dementia, mental health needs, acquired brain injury and physical ill health.
The MCA It is about making sure that people over the age of 16 have the support they need to make as many decisions as possible and protects people who need family, friends or support staff to make decisions for them when they lack the capacity to make specific decisions.
The Mental Capacity Act is decision-specific, so no one can be labelled as entirely lacking in capacity. The decisions covered include big decisions like where to live but also smaller events like what to wear on a hot or cold day.
How does the Mental Capacity Act apply to GPs and Dentists?
The Mental Capacity Act protects people’s right to make their own decisions and this includes decisions about their treatment and care.
As medical practitioners, you are not only likely to need someone to make the decision whether to consent to treatment or not. You are also likely to be working with people who may have a condition which could affect their ability to consent.
As mentioned above, conditions such as the following could affect someone’s capacity to make a specific decision:
- Learning disability
- Mental health needs
- Brian Injury
- Ill health
- Drug or alcohol misuse
It is also important for GPs and dentists to consider time as a factor, as you are likely to encounter people at different stages. For example, the following are situations where the timing of a question could affect the response:
- A person with epilepsy may not be able to make a decision following a seizure
- Someone with anxiety might not be able to make a decision while anxious
- Someone who has taken medication that causes fatigue
Though it may seem that the person cannot make a specific decision at these points, later in the day or at another time they may be able to. Therefore, the urgency of the decision that needs to be taken should be considered.
Mental Capacity Act Training for GPs and Dentists
For GPs and dentists, it is essential that someone is able to make as many decisions about their care as they are able to, and that they are at least involved in decisions they do not have capacity to make.
For this to happen, GPs, dentists and health care professionals need:
- An appreciation of why the Mental Capacity Act is important
- How to identify when it is relevant
- Recognise when someone’s rights are not being upheld
- Understand how the individual can be supported to make a decision
As a leading UK authority in safeguarding adults at risk, we offer Mental Capacity Act training to GPs, dentists and health practitioners. Find out more about how the course could help you and your organisation meet the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act or get in touch to discuss your requirements.