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The Coronavirus Act (2020) has introduced temporary changes to the Mental Health Order (Northern Ireland) 1986, which allows for the treatment of people who have severe mental illness to continue even if the workforce is reduced to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.
We’ve summarized the main changes below, which may be helpful for you or someone you are close to.
The 1986 Order (4) requires an application for compulsory admission to hospital for assessment to be made by an approved social worker.
In an emergency applications now can, in addition to approved social workers, be made by a relevant social worker, if an approved social worker is not available. 3(1)-(3) and (5) – (10)
The 1986 order states that:
The temporary changes increase these timescales so that the approved, or relevant, social worker and medical practitioner need to have seen you in person within the last 5 days. [3 (4), 4]
The 1986 Order [7 (2), 7 (3)] states that, in emergencies, medical professionals have the power to detain you if you are a voluntary patient. This is stop you from leaving hospital if you are a risk to yourself, or to others. These, “holding powers” mean that you can be “held” until an assessment is made for compulsory admission. Under the Coronavirus Act:
These timescales have been extended so that doctors and nurses have longer to assess you. These are the only changes which are being made to the holding powers of medical professionals.
The 1986 Order requires that you be “immediately examined upon admission” for assessment in hospital. [9 (1)]
The Coronavirus Act amendments provide that this must be done as soon as possible, and not later than 12 hours after admission. [6 (1)]
When you are compulsorily admitted into hospital for assessment, you must be examined and a record of the examination made [9, (1)].
If the medical practitioner who examined you is not the Responsible Medical Officer (RMO) or a Part II appointed doctor, under the 1986 Order, you could be detained for 48 hours, during which time you must be examined by the RMO, or a Part II appointed doctor (who must be at least at the level of Consultant Psychiatrist, if the detention is to continue. [9(4) and (5)]
If a person other than the RMO or the Part II appointed doctor makes the examination report, you can be detained for up to 120 hours if the doctor:
A, “relevant medical practitioner” means a medical practitioner who is not an appointed Part II doctor, and who has at least 5 years’ experience working with mental health patients, of which at least 1 year’s experience was working with patients who were detained for treatment. This may be a psychiatrist.
MindWise empowers those that use our advocacy services to take a lead in securing the rights and services to which they are entitled.
While we accept that emergency provisions are necessary at this time, we are concerned that some of the temporary changes mean that people are at risk of being detained for longer than necessary, or that people who are in need of treatment will not receive timely assessments.
We will be closely following how these changes are implemented to ensure the rights of people affected by mental ill health are respected and that their voices are heard.