A problem solving approach is key when advising on issues relating to vulnerable people, says Sharon Thomas
Hill Dickinson has provided legal support and guidance to the NHS for well over 20 years. Our specialist mental health and social care team provides advice to NHS and private providers on all aspects of mental health law, mental capacity and safeguarding issues.
The ethos of our team is not about conflict but about problem solving. This approach is essential when advising on issues relating to vulnerable people. Their best interests have to be at the forefront of all decision making. When things go wrong it is often due to poor communication. Many providers are working hard to improve communication with service users and partner agencies.
Engaging young people
Communication with young people is one area which has always proved difficult for services. Often younger people have been inappropriately placed in adult or paediatric services and appropriate information has not been available for them. Social media and the benefits it can have in engaging young people are now being appreciated by health organisations.
‘Communication with young people has proved difficult for services’
Confidentiality is a real area of concern in this field and we regularly advise on compliance with it and the limits of it. Getting the right balance is essential for the public to have trust in the organisation.
It is also important to appreciate that health services do not sit in isolation. Ensuring the best outcome for the service user will usually involve co-ordination between many agencies: commonly social services, the police, volunteers and third sector providers. Clear policies and agreements are needed. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 is one area where we regularly advise NHS bodies, both in relation to adult patients and young people. Having a clear policy in this regard, which all the agencies are signed up to, ensures the person is cared for in the most appropriate environment, as quickly as possible.
‘Ensuring the best outcome for the service user will usually involve co-ordination between many agencies: commonly social services, the police, volunteers and third sector providers’
There has been a reduction in the use of section 136 in the last year. It is not yet known if that is due to a greater understanding by the police of mental health issues or whether other factors have come into play. At present the national statistics do not distinguish how many detentions under this section relate to young people.
Anecdotally, we are told by clients that they are concerned about the number of young people who are detained on this section, perhaps because of alcohol or drug use, but who do not have a mental disorder.
Sharon Thomas is a partner in the mental health and social care team at Hill Dickinson LLP