MSPs call for repeal of ‘unnecessary and arbitrary powers’ in order to protect mentally ill

MSPs call for repeal of 'unnecessary and arbitrary powers' in order to protect mentally ill

Ruth Maguire

A Holyrood committee has reiterated its call for “unnecessary and arbitrary powers” contained in emergency coronavirus legislation to be repealed in order to protect the rights of people with mental health conditions.

Schedule 9 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 provides for longer periods of emergency detention and makes it simpler for securing short-term detention certificates and compulsory treatment orders, but the powers have not yet been brought into force.

In a letter to the equalities minister, Christina McKelvie MSP, the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee urged the Scottish government to work with the UK government to repeal that part of the legislation.

The committee, which is investigating the human rights impact of COVID-19 and the effect of the emergency measures imposed on people across Scotland, said that while the need to take preventative actions to protect the NHS and people who need emergency intervention quickly was understandable, the circumstances had materially changed.

Committee convener, Ruth Maguire MSP, said: “Coupled with this overarching point is the committee’s concern around the lack of detail about when use of the legislation would be triggered.

“As a human rights defender, the committee considers this approach is the very reason why legislation, a blunt instrument, should be repealed. Having the power as a ‘backstop’ while not having a clear threshold, and awaiting an arbitrary six-month review is an unacceptable position when people’s rights are being removed.”

A further concern of the committee has been the measures put in place to ensure vulnerable old people’s human rights are being protected during the public health crisis, following reports that elderly patients hospitalised during the coronavirus pandemic have been pressured into signing “do not resuscitate” forms.

The committee has heard evidence that old people had been encouraged by healthcare workers to complete “Do Not Attempt CPR” forms – which state that potentially life-saving CPR should not be performed should their heart stop – without patients fully understanding the implications.

MSPs have called on the Scottish government to undertake an investigation into the circumstances that they claim “led to DNACPR forms being given to old people without conversations taking place between clinicians and patients in advance or advocacy being sought”.

The letter states: “The committee considers it is of considerable importance to understand what has happened in relation to DNACPR forms. Older people’s human rights must be protected, and steps taken to ensure that any roll back is remedied immediately.

“Only by inquiring into the circumstances will the Scottish government fully understand why the guidance, which is familiar to clinicians, was insufficient in these circumstances and what actions should be taken to prevent a reoccurrence in the future.”

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