Simon Lawton Smith, Head of Policy at the Mental Health Foundation:
Yesterday, the CQC published an important report on the experiences of patients applying to Mental Health Tribunals. This is a key area of mental health care, allowing patients the right to challenge their detention and treatment under the Mental Health Act.
It’s great that the Tribunals Service is making a real effort to improve the Mental Health Tribunal process but the report suggests there’s still some way to go - it’s still a confusing and sometimes unsatisfactory experience for patients, as has been known for some years.
Many hearings were subject to delays which caused patients significant distress and anxiety. Many patients also complained that they had received little or no information about the tribunal process and some reported a limited access to the reports which forms an important part of the evidence upon which the Tribunal bases its decision. There’s also a problem ensuring that lawyers represent the patients properly - hence the recommendation that all legal representatives appearing before a Tribunal must be accredited as member of the Law Society’s Mental Health Tribunal Panel.
The report’s list of recommendations, if implemented consistently across the country, could significantly improve patients’ experience of the Tribunal system. However, where are the incentives to introduce these improvements? Tribunal resources are tight and there has been an increase in the number of Tribunals, especially since the introduction of Community Treatment Orders in 2008.
It’s good the problems have been clearly set out. But at a time of serious public funding cuts, how do we ensure that adequate resources – for example, for extra training for Tribunal members - are made available to guarantee that these measures will be put into place?
01 April 2011