Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Of Animals and Mental Health Act Assessments

Animals quite often figure in a social worker’s day to day work. This is because of Sec.48 of the National Assistance Act 1948, which states essentially that where a person has been admitted to hospital or admitted to a care home and they are deemed to be unable to deal with their property “it shall be the duty of the local authority to take reasonable steps to prevent or mitigate loss or damage”. This means that a social worker may have to ensure that a house has been locked up and made secure; it also means that a social worker may have to ensure that any animals the person owns are cared for.

This has led to some unusual requests. One night when I was on call, I was contacted by the local police about a couple of New Age travellers, who lived in a traditional horse drawn caravan and would tour the commons of the county, camping for a few nights at a time at each one. They had had a fire in their caravan and it had been burnt out. They therefore needed emergency accommodation. And so did their two horses and a dog.

The prospect of finding accommodation for a couple of able bodied people at such short notice was remote. The prospect of finding emergency accommodation for two horses was virtually impossible. This called for some lateral thinking.

After a lot of ringing around I managed to contact a voluntary organisation who were able to provide a large tarpaulin and deliver it to the site. The travellers were therefore able to construct a bender using the tarpaulin and remain on the common. This meant that they could also continue to look after their dog and their horses. Problem solved.

Not all such requests are so unusual: most involve dogs and cats, having to arrange accommodation in kennels or catteries. Social workers have a list of places and organisations who are prepared to accommodate animals in an emergency, and are generally able to take these situations in their stride.

Dolores was a lady in her 60’s who lived alone in a housing association bungalow. She had a history of schizophrenia going back 30 or more years. Periodically she would decide to have a break from medication. This would then lead to a gradual deterioration in her mental state until she reached a point when she could not longer care for herself adequately and was terrorising her neighbours. I had known her on and off for about 15 years, being called on periodically to assess her under the MHA when all other avenues had been tried.

I had last seen Dolores a few months previously when she had managed to stop having her regular injection by the cunning expedient of informing her community nurse that she was moving out of the area. The local older people’s mental health service had fallen for this ruse for several months, until they were eventually alerted to the fact that she was still in her bungalow in Charwood when they started to receive reports that she had destroyed her pension book, had thrown out her furniture and all her electrical equipment, and was then arrested after she broke an elderly neighbour’s window and made threats to kill her. I had then detained her under Sec.3 MHA. After a couple of months she recovered and returned home. Since she was reluctant to have a depot injection, she was discharged on oral antipsychotic medication.

This was just what she wanted. She soon stopped taking her medication, and before long reports were again being received that she was behaving in bizarre and unacceptable ways. I was again asked to assess her.

Knowing Dolores had a cat, I had already made tentative plans for it to be looked after, and even had a cat basket in the boot of my car, just in case.

I went out with her consultant psychiatrist, her GP, her community nurse and an AMHP trainee. Dolores allowed us into the house, but was suspicious of our motives. She believed that the only reason we were there were so that we could take her bungalow from her and live in it ourselves, perhaps as some sort of mental health professional commune. She was keen to challenge her diagnosis of schizophrenia with some intriguing logical constructs which went like this:

(1) People with schizophrenia hear voices. She does not hear voices. Therefore she does not have schizophrenia.
(2) The Yorkshire Ripper has schizophrenia. She is not the Yorkshire Ripper. Therefore she does not have schizophrenia.

She took a copy of the Oxford Companion to the Mind from her bookshelf.

“I’ve read all about schizophrenia in this book,” she said. “So you can’t pull the wool over my eyes. Here. See what it says for yourself.”

She suddenly flung the book at me, which I was fortunately able to dodge. If I’ve learned anything in my years as an AMHP, it is always to be ready to take evasive action.

We took the decision to detain her under Sec.3 for treatment. This was on the basis that her diagnosis was known, it was known what treatment she required, she would not agree to that treatment being provided in the community, her presentation was entirely consistent with her usual relapse profile, and she had been detained under Sec.3 only a few months previously.

Not surprisingly, Dolores objected. In the circumstances, I felt it was wise to call the police, who very obligingly attended. She liked the police. If there’s something else I have learned, it is that older ladies who are being detained under the MHA are often partial to a man in uniform.

While we waited for the ambulance, I decided to complete the necessary arrangements to accommodate Dolores’ cat.

The cat was not happy about having a house full of strangers. The cat was also not happy about the plan to remove it. It hid behind a sideboard. When we moved the sideboard, it ran off and hid behind the curtain. When we moved the curtain it ran into the kitchen and hid under a kitchen cabinet. When I reached under to get it, it ran out of the kitchen and into the bedroom, where it secreted itself first behind the wardrobe, and then under the bed.

The AMHP trainee was keen to help. She crawled under the bed, and after a scuffle emerged triumphantly with the cat in her hands, which we popped into the cat basket.

However, this was not the only thing the AMHP trainee had emerged with. The cat had understandably been frightened by the strangers in the bungalow and by our efforts to catch it. It had been very frightened. So frightened that it had emptied its bowels under the bed. The product of this action was now liberally smeared all over the AMHP trainee’s blouse.

So while I went off with Dolores and the ambulance to the hospital, the AMHP trainee went home to have a shower and change her clothes.

AMHP learning points
1. If AMHP’s wore uniforms would they receive a better reception? Discuss.
2. Don’t ever crawl under a bed to retrieve a frightened cat.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Community Treatment Orders and the Role of the AMHP

After the frippery of the last two posts, here is a hefty New Year analysis of Community Treatment Orders, complete with references and tasty statistics. (Don’t forget to put me in your references, AMHP trainees!)

The 2007 Mental Health Act introduced a new role for AMHP’s: functions relating to the new powers of Community Treatment Orders. These functions were “to agree (or not) to the making of a Community Treatment Order (CTO) (s.17A); the extension of a CTO (s20A); conditions to be included in a CTO (s17B); and revocation of a CTO(s17F)” (Mental Health Act 2007 New Roles, NIMHE, October 2008).

Previously, the nearest equivalent had been Sec.25A, relating to Aftercare under Supervision. Sec.25A, inserted into the MHA in 1996, had been intended to provide a legal framework to ensure that patients who had been detained under Sec.3 could be treated in the community. However, Sec.25A never really had any legal teeth to enforce this. Essentially, the patient had to agree to the imposition of aftercare under supervision. If they disagreed, then no order could be made, and they would just have to be discharged anyway when they were well enough. Even if they did agree, they could change their mind at any time, and not much could practically be done about it.

I was only ever involved in one discharge under Sec.25A. The patient, who had been in hospital under Sec.3 for several years, willingly agreed to a comprehensive plan for aftercare in the predischarge meetings. However, the instant he had been formally discharged from Sec.3, he changed his mind about it all. Within a fortnight, he had stopped his medication and began to hide from his care coordinator, and two weeks later he turned up at his parents’ house in the middle of the night, beside himself with fear because everyone in Charwood was listening to his thoughts on their TV’s and the CIA had tracker drones scanning his every move. Within a month of being on Sec.25A he was back in hospital under Sec.3. Sec.25A never really caught on.

Community Treatment Orders, however, are something different. They were also quite controversial, since various Human Rights organisations had concerns about the proposed powers, which could compel patients to have treatment in the community on pain of being recalled to hospital if they refused.

There are certainly ethical issues with CTO’s. Can it ever be right to force people who are not detained in hospital to take medication against their will? But then what is the alternative? The stated purpose of CTO’s is “to allow suitable patients to be safely treated in the community rather than under detention in hospital, and to provide a way to help prevent relapse and any harm – to the patient or to others – that this might cause. It is intended to help patients to maintain stable mental health outside hospital and to promote recovery.” (25.2 MHA Code of Practice) That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

In addition, the power is designed only to be used with severely mentally disordered people who are at high risk of relapse, often referred to as “revolving door” patients – people like Jenny, about whom I wrote in July 2009 (“God told me not to answer the door!”), who are having to be repeatedly admitted to hospital, often under the MHA. Those frequent relapses and admissions, when the person may take many months in hospital to recover, are likely to be far more harmful to their quality of life than the imposition of controls that may actually allow them to function normally and live a fulfilled life in their own homes.

There is an odd thing, though, about CTO’s. This is the role of the AMHP in the whole process. ASW’s, AMHP’s predecessors, had specific and extensive powers in relation to the detention of patients under the 1983 MHA. As I have often described on this blog, the ASW/AMHP has the power, and the responsibility, to arrange for the detention and admission of a mentally disordered patient. Doctors can recommend, but it is the ASW/AMHP who makes the final decision – and who takes the consequences for that decision. The ASW/AMHP is acting independently of the local authority that approves them. Despite the opinions of some patients that AMHP’s enjoy exerting their power, the reality is that it is an onerous and stressful task that is never taken lightly.

But CTO’s put the AMHP in the position of merely recommending and endorsing the decision of the Responsible Clinician (RC), the psychiatrist in charge of the patient. Their role, although essential to the legal process, is comparatively minor. In practice, it consists of little more than signing a brief, preprinted statement on a piece of paper.

The AMHP becomes involved in the CTO process in three ways. In the case of the making of the CTO in the first place, the AMHP is presented with a form (CTO1) already largely filled out by the RC. The AMHP then has to sign that he or she agrees that the patient meets the legal criteria, that the CTO is appropriate, and that any conditions that the RC has made are necessary or appropriate. In the case of the extension of a CTO beyond the initial 6 months (CTO7) the AMHP again has to agree that the patient meets the criteria and that extension is appropriate.

When a patient has been recalled to hospital by the RC under the powers of the CTO and it appears they will need to remain in hospital for more than 72 hours, the RC will then reinvoke the original Sec.3 by revoking the CTO. Then the AMHP simply has to agree on form CTO5 that the patient meets the criteria for detention in hospital, and that it is appropriate to revoke the CTO.

However, a funny thing about CTO’s is the remarkable lack of rules or guidance relating to the discharge of the AMHP’s role. AMHP’s are subject to all sorts of requirements relating to the detention of patients, laid down either in the Act itself, or in guidance in the form of the Reference Guide and the Code of Practice. These include having to interview the patient “in a suitable manner” before making a decision, the correct identification of the Nearest Relative, notifying the patient and their nearest relative of their rights under the Act, having to write a detailed report explaining and justifying their decisions, and ensuring that all other the legal requirements have been met. Failure to do any of these things may lead to accusations that the AMHP has acted in bad faith or even illegally.

But when it comes to CTO’s, there is no requirement to write a report (unless you disagree with the psychiatrist). Department of Health guidance published in 2008 states only: “In making these judgements, the AMHP is expected to bring knowledge of the patient’s social situation into the discussion. This may require discussion with the patient’s care co-ordinator or key worker so that information about the patient’s home, family, informal support networks, cultural background, and so on can all form part of the decisions which are taken about SCT.” (Supervised Community Treatment: A Guide for Practitioners, DH, Sep 2008) There is no actual requirement even to interview the patient or consult with the nearest relative. There also seems to be no guidance as to what would constitute grounds to disagree with the consultant’s view. Somehow, that doesn’t feel right.

Although CTO’s have been in force since the end of 2008, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was actually called upon to discharge my AMHP functions. I have now signed a CTO1 (making a CTO) and a CTO5 (revoking a CTO). (So that now makes me an expert, of course.)

Although I am sure that many AMHP’s, after two years of the new powers, will have been involved in plenty of CTO’s, especially if they are hospital based, and can therefore easily pop down the corridor to fill in a form, it came as something of a surprise to me to suddenly be exercising a new function. So I consulted with other colleagues as to how to go about making the assessment and the decision. That was when I fully realised the lack of guidance and procedural protocols. The other AMHP’s, even those who had been involved in many CTO’s, all seemed somehow uncomfortable with the whole process, all approaching the task in their own ways, and as much in the dark about it all as I was.

The first request I received was for a CTO on a 14 year old girl who had been in hospital for over a year under Sec.3. That in itself put me outside my comfort zone – in my day to day work I only work with adults. She had a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder. This made me even more uncomfortable – it had always been my belief that the usual age of onset for bipolar affective disorder was somewhere in the mid 20’s to mid 30’s. Could a child therefore even receive this diagnosis? Child and Adolescent Psychiatry was even more mysterious than I had thought.

However, it was not my role as AMHP to question a diagnosis. I simply had to “decide whether to agree with the patient’s responsible clinician that the patient meets the criteria for SCT, and (if so) whether SCT is appropriate.” (25.24, MHA Code of Practice). I also had to “consider the wider social context for the patient. Relevant factors may include any support networks the patient may have, the potential impact on the rest of the patient’s family, and employment issues. The AMHP should consider how the patient’s social and cultural background may influence the family environment in which they will be living and the support structures potentially available.” (25.24,25.25 Code of Practice)

So I consulted with the hospital RC (who was actually making the CTO), as well as the community RC (who would be managing the CTO). I spoke to the Care Coordinator. I interviewed the patient, who was on S.117 home leave in Charwood, and her mother. I read the girl’s psychiatric notes. Then I wrote a report, simply using as headings the factors to be taken into account. Then the hospital RC posted the CTO1 to me (I wasn’t going to drive 120 miles to fill in a form). When I received it, I filled in my part, then posted it back. And when he received it a couple of days later, it was completed and she became subject to Supervised Community Treatment. And that was the end of my involvement, although I suppose I may be called on to be involved in any renewal process after the first 6 months.

The other piece of work I have so far done was a revocation of a CTO following a recall to hospital. This related to Leroy, who I wrote about in this blog in May 2009. Leroy had been on a CTO for over a year, but on Christmas Day he was found naked by police in Charwood town centre, stopping cars and kissing the windows. Ill advised use of amphetamine was believed to be implicated. He had been informally admitted to Bluebell Ward, but it was clear, despite the amphetamine wearing off, that he was unwell and would need to remain in hospital for more than 72 hours.

I felt more comfortable with this. I knew Leroy well, I knew his relapse signature, and it seemed likely that it would be appropriate for him to remain in hospital for treatment. It also seemed that the CTO seemed to be having some positive effect, as in the 18 months since he had been subject to Supervised Community Treatment, acute admissions to hospital had gone down. A bit. And the length of time he then spent in hospital had also reduced. So I interviewed him, wrote a report, and signed my bit of the CTO5.

There’s one other thing that leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable about CTO’s. That is, that they are very popular.

Often, it takes quite a while for mental health professionals get used to legal changes like this. Not so with CTO’s.

In a document published in October 2010 (In-patients formally detained in hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983 and patients subject to supervised community treatment, Annual figures, England 2009/10) the total number of patients placed on CTO’s in 2008-9 was 2,109. In 2009-10 it had virtually doubled to 4,020. Over the same period, the number of patients detained under Sec.3 (only people detained under Sec.3 and some forensic sections can be placed on a CTO) was completely static, at 21,538 for 2008-9 and 21,332 in 2009-10.

This means that within two years of the introduction of CTO’s nearly 19% of patients detained in hospital under Sec.3 were discharged on a CTO. And since CTO’s are often being kept in place for a year or more, this could mean a growing accumulation of patient in the community on CTO’s.

It may take some convincing that this constitutes the “least restrictive” option.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A Glimpse Behind the Scenes at The Masked AMHP Blog

People often ask me if I run The Masked AMHP Blog all on my own. Well, blogs don’t maintain themselves. As well as having to write the actual posts, there are all sorts of things that have to be undertaken behind the scenes in order to keep the blog running smoothly, and it wouldn’t be possible without my dedicated staff, all of whom are too modest to want a name check on the blog.

So, as a special treat, here are just a few glimpses behind the scenes at the Blog.

Installing awards on the blog takes more work than you may imagine. Here’s a snap of two of my staff erecting the recent award from Mental Nurse.

The recent inclement weather hasn’t helped, and it has often taken valiant efforts to keep all the links open to the different posts.

Blog staff looking for traces of irony in a forthcoming post.

The Masked AMHP and Tonto, his faithful AMHP student, debriefing a recent Mental Health Act Assessment. Section 2 or Section 3? It's sometimes too close to call...

Well, that's all for now. A Happy New Year. Normal service will be resumed next post.