The ability to make decisions is referred to as mental capacity. As a result of illness or injury, it can often be difficult to determine whether an individual can make informed decisions about day-to-day life or important decisions about care, treatment, finances and property – either all or some of the time. The Mental Capacity Act (2005) sets out provisions for protecting individuals and promoting their independence.
Conditions that may make it difficult for an individual to make a decision include:
- A learning disability
- A mental health problem
- A brain injury or stroke
The Mental Capacity Act applies to everyone involved in the care, treatment and support of people aged 16 or over who are unable to make all or some decisions for themselves.
The Act explains:
- Individuals should have as much help as possible to make their own decisions
- How an assessment of capacity is made about whether a person is able to make a particular decision at a particular time
- Even if a person does not have the capacity to make a very complicated decision for themselves, this does not mean that a person is unable to make more straightforward decisions
- Even if someone has to make a decision on an individual’s behalf, that individual must still be involved in this as much as possible
- Anyone making a decision on an individual’s behalf must do so in their best interests
Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA)
- There is a new safeguard, the IMCA who will represent an individual if they lack capacity to make certain important decisions and there is no-one else who can be consulted.
If an individual wants to plan for the future, the Act:
- Allows for an individual to make a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) – to appoint someone to make decisions about finance and property or healthcare and welfare should there ever be a lack of capacity to make these decisions
- Enables a person to make an ‘advance decision to refuse treatment’ if there is a particular medical treatment an individual would not wish to receive at a time in the future when there may be a lack of capacity to refuse it
For a family or other unpaid carer, the Act:
- Will help them to understand how and when they can act on behalf of someone who lacks capacity to make decisions – and the safeguards and limitations if they are doing this
- Says they should be consulted by professionals when, for example, a doctor makes a decision about treatment for a family member who lacks capacity