Almost half of detentions under Mental Health Act made without mental health officer input

Close to half (44 per cent) of urgent mental health detentions made in the past year were initiated by a doctor without the support and expertise of a mental health officer, it has been revealed.

In a report published today, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland also finds that the number of new episodes of compulsory treatment for mental ill health in Scotland rose last year to the highest level ever - 5,008 new episodes - since the Mental Health Act 2003 was introduced.

The annual monitoring report examines national and regional use of the law in treating people for mental ill health and raises concerns in the commission about patients’ human rights.

There are three forms of certification for compulsory treatment, and the most marked rise was in the use of emergency detention certificates, which are used in crisis situations to detain a person who needs urgent care or treatment for mental ill health.

These certificates can be issued by any doctor, and allow someone to be kept in hospital for up to 72 hours.

The Mental Health Act provides that there should be consent from a specialist social worker - known as a mental health officer - wherever practicable when these certificates are used.

But while there was a 10 per cent rise in the use of these certificates last year, only 56 per cent of the total had the consent of a mental health officer.

Dr Gary Morrison, executive director (medical) at the Mental Welfare Commission said: “People who are very unwell, and need compulsory treatment for their mental ill health, are at their most vulnerable.

“A mental health officer can help explain the process, and can also look at alternative ways of supporting a person without needing compulsory treatment. If there is no mental health officer involved in this critical decision, some people may be detained unnecessarily.

“Others may find the experience of being told they will be detained much more traumatic than they would have done if a mental health officer had been there.

“The commission’s role is to protect and promote the human rights of people with mental health problems, so we take this issue seriously. There are significant variations across the country, and we expect those areas with low levels of mental health officer involvement to develop clear action plans for improvement.”

Last year the Scottish government asked the commission to examine the reasons for low levels of mental health officer consent. In June 2016, the commission published an audit which made recommendations for action by Scottish government, local authorities and NHS boards.