Exclusive: Shortage of mental health officers causing ‘massive’ delays in lodging guardianship orders

Exclusive: Shortage of mental health officers causing ‘massive’ delays in lodging guardianship orders

Scottish Legal News has learned that vulnerable adults are being put at a disadvantage because of severe delays in lodging guardianship orders in court due to a shortage of mental health officers.

A guardianship order is sought where a person has no capacity and may be very vulnerable or in care, with no means of releasing funds to pay for the care.

An order cannot be lodged in court without a mental health officer report but despite the law mandating that such reports be made within 21 days of notification of intention to make an application, the rule, one solicitor said, is “hardly ever complied with” except in urgent cases, resulting in delays of up to nine months.

Speaking to SLN, Adrian Ward, convener of the Law Society of Scotland Mental Health and Disability Committee said applications had not been matched by mental health officer appointments.

He added: “When the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 was passed, there were initial concerns that the intentions of the legislation could be defeated by delays in production of mental health officer reports, because guardianship and intervention order applications where welfare powers are sought cannot even be lodged in court without such a report.

“Accordingly, the Parliament set a time limit of 21 days from notification of intention to make such an application, for preparation of the mental health officer report.”

Mr Ward said that some delays “appear to be massive” but that the cause was clear.

“Figures just published by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland show that in the year 2016/17 applications stood at 214 per cent of those in 2009/10, during which period the number of mental health officers in post across Scotland has not increased.”

A lawyer in Dundee told this publication that delays of three to four months in the city and Angus were common.

A freedom of information request made by the Law Society found significant delays across all of Scotland’s local authorities.

“We think that Scottish government should address the need to resource and promote, as a matter of urgency, adequate recruitment, training and retention of mental health officers,” Mr Ward said.

A Scottish government spokesman told SLN: “The Scottish government recognises the invaluable contribution made by the mental health officer workforce to improving the lives of mental health patients and their friends and families

“It is the responsibility of local authorities to plan their mental health officer workforce, ensuring they have the appropriate levels of staff in place to provide services for their residents.

“The Scottish government has committed to a review of the adults with incapacity legislation and there will be a full public consultation on proposals for reform early in the new year. Part of the consultation will include options for change around the  process of applying for guardianship orders.”

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