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Law Firm Warns of New Rights for People in Care

Rights for people in care improved


Carers in the North East have been warned about the impact of a new law that gives improved rights to people in care.

As many as 24,700 households in the North East*, along with thousands more people in hospitals that receive care, will be affected by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA), which comes into force fully on October 1st.

It affects the way social and public healthcare professionals can make decisions on behalf of the people in their care, including stroke sufferers, those with brain injuries, learning difficulties and dementia.

The likely effects of the new law were outlined on Thursday, June 7th at a seminar in Newcastle hosted by Irwin Mitchell, the leading personal injury firm in the UK.

The MCA has also introduced new criminal offences of ill-treatment or neglect of people in care which can carry prison sentences of up to five years.

Patricia Hawkins, associate solicitor in Irwin Mitchells Court of Protection team, said: The law has been introduced to ensure that decisions are not taken on someone's behalf unless it has been proven that they lack the capability to make their own decisions and even then it must be in the patients best interest.

There is now a range of tests put in place to assess whether or not a person in care has the capability to make key decisions.

It is vital that professional carers are fully aware of the impact this will have on the way they work, for the protection of both them and for the people in their care. However, it is not an easy issue to get to grips with “ for example, there is no clear definition of acting in someone's best interests and each case must be judged on an individual basis, against a set of criteria laid out by the MCA.

Further, across the UK, there are six million people caring on a non-professional, informal basis, all of whom will need to be brought up to speed on the changes to the law. If anyone is in any doubt about how they will be affected, the best course of action is to seek professional advice before the law takes effect this autumn.

Part of the MCA took effect in April 2007 and introduced the Independent Mental Capacity Advocates, who can act on behalf of the person lacking capacity.

* Households across North East receiving home help and home care, Department of Health, April 2007. Town-by-town figures available on request.