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06th June 2013

Mental Health, Advocacy and Human Rights

The Human Rights Act 1998 (which actually came into force in 2000) is never far from the news, and sometimes surrounded by controversy, but how many of us can say we know the articles of rights contained within it? A recent publication from the British Institute for Human Rights (BIHR) is a very easy read guide that brings human rights law to life with some real life examples about people with mental health problems.  The guide refers to changes in the last few years to important mental health legislation that have been influenced by the Human Rights Act, namely the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act.

The BIHR guide is written mainly for advocates and service users but anyone who wants a straightforward understanding of the impact of the Human Rights Act on working with people with mental health problems would do well to read it. One section in the guide that will be particularly useful to staff working in the care home sector is around advocates and how they can raise concerns about care and treatment that might conflict with a service user’s human rights. Advocates can come in different guises, either as part of a statutory framework to represent people subject to the Mental Health Act (Independent Mental Health Advocates) and the Mental Capacity Act (Independent Mental Capacity Advocates) or perhaps as someone independent of the care home, such as an advocate working for a voluntary organisation, or a friend.

The Human Rights Act places obligations on public services, so that excludes private individuals and companies.  However, it does include private care homes and nursing homes where they are providing care funded by a local authority or the NHS. This guide also makes a useful and clear distinction between human rights which are absolute (that is there can be no exclusions or ‘get-outs’) such as the right to life, and non-absolute rights, such as the right to liberty. There are clearly many people with a mental disorder who are detained against their will, or their movements restricted in other ways following a proper legal process, and the Human Rights Act acknowledges and allows for that.

So, if you want to get to grips with the basics of the Human Rights Act and some of its possible implications for the care of people with mental health problems, then getting hold of a copy of this guide would be a good place to start. E-mail hwildbore@bihr.org.uk to ask for a hard copy.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

David Beckingham

Mental Health Specialist

David Beckingham is a self-employed independent trainer, and is also an honorary lecturer with the University of Cumbria. His professional background is as a social worker and he has worked in care homes for older people in Cumbria. David’s main area of expertise is in mental health. Prior to becoming self-employed he was a Staff Development and Training Officer with Cumbria County Council, both commissioning and delivering training to mental health workers and others in statutory and independent sector organisations. Read more

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