Personalised. Respectful. Best outcomes. Independence. Equality. Human rights. These are very familiar words in our lexicon of social work. Every day, we strive to support people and families in their efforts to lead happier, healthier, more productive lives. Ensuring people’s views, wishes and feelings are at the heart of decision making, balanced with their care and protection, is fundamental to excellent social work practice.
The revised Mental Health Act 1983: Code of Practice echoes these watchwords – not surprising given social workers’ positive input to the consultation which helped inform its latest iteration.
Alongside mental health clinicians and the police, we are one of the professional groups most commonly involved with people experiencing psychological issues or mental health problems – especially those of us who are approved mental health professional (AMHPs). Our attitudes, values and training attune us to be engaged with people’s experiences, how they are feeling and what matters to them. I’ve blogged before about the importance of emotional intelligence and empathy in our work. But that work needs a framework, it needs an awareness of the options and processes open to social workers when considering how best to help a person in crisis.
For example, the Code of Practice provides us with mechanisms to make sure those with mental health problems - who might need inpatient care - are considered for appropriate environments for continuing care and rehabilitation. Our insights and decisions can mean the difference between detaining someone and arranging community based care. Likewise, I believe we can offer wise counsel during Deprivation of Liberty (DoLS) reviews and whether use of DoLS or the Mental Health Act is more appropriate – the new code gives advice to assist with this.
It also features a significantly updated chapter on the use of police powers of restraint and places of safety. It includes guidance on section 140; what can be done and who is responsible when no bed is available. It also emphasises the need to take a person’s views into account when deciding where to place them. If we’re doing our job right we will have anecdotal evidence going beyond the technical description of a person’s psychology. We should be able to offer insights into how they may behave with friends, family and carers, and what might be the best approach to help them.
‘Person-centred’ is another increasingly familiar term being used in health policy, but we should not begrudge its repetition. It lies at the heart of the Code of Practice’ intent to involve individuals at every stage of their care. Many chapters are dedicated to protecting people’s rights and autonomy, while others focus on specific cohorts, such as children and young people and those with a learning disability or autism – these chapters have been significantly updated.
As social workers, the space described above is one we frequently occupy. On this point, I’m pleased the College of Social Work, building on the work of Professor Croisdale-Appleby, is developing CPD materials supporting best social work practice in mental health, mental capacity and autism. Meanwhile, our soon to be published response to last year’s knowledge and skills statement consultation will continue this emphasis as we seek to equip current and future social workers with the tools they need to better serve the people with whom we work.
Whether or not you are a social worker or an AMHP, I urge you to review and become familiar with the Mental Health Act 1983 Code of Practice. If we truly wish to protect and promote the rights and wishes of vulnerable individuals we owe it to them to research and understand the legal and best practice requirements of our roles and relationships. At some point in our lives any one of us may need someone to fight our corner when we no longer have the capacity to do so. At its best, social work champions this ethic – the Code of Practice helps bring this into even sharper focus.