The New Mental Health Act: A guide to the role of the mental health officer - Information for service users and their carers

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4 What does the mental health officer do?

When you are required to receive care and/or treatment under the Act the local authority must make sure that an MHO is appointed to work with you.

You might be being treated under any of the following orders:

  • a short-term detention certificate
  • an interim CTO
  • a CTO
  • an assessment order
  • a treatment order
  • an interim compulsion order
  • a compulsion order
  • a hospital direction
  • a transfer for treatment direction.

In these cases the MHO will:

  • interview you
  • advise you of your rights, including your right to independent advocacy, legal representation and your right to have a named person to look after your interests.

MHO's are also responsible for:

  • providing consent for you to be assessed or treated in hospital on an emergency or short-term detention certificate
  • applying for a CTO
  • letting the Mental Welfare Commission and your named person know if you have been detained in hospital or when an application is being made for you to be placed on a CTO.

(a) Emergency and short-term orders

There are different types of emergency and short-term orders that allow someone to be assessed or treated under the Act, depending on their particular circumstances. A separate guide provides information on emergency and short-term orders (see page 12).

The role of the MHO in these orders is explained below:

(i) If you appear to have a mental disorder and you are living in the community and someone expresses concerns about you, then your local authority has a duty to look into your circumstances. If there is a problem getting to see you, or have a doctor examine you, then the MHO can apply for warrants to get legal access to your home and can take steps to make sure that you are seen by a doctor. They can also apply for a court order that would allow you to be taken to a 'place of safety' for up to 7 days.

(ii) If you become unwell as a result of your mental disorder and need emergency care and treatment, a doctor may grant an emergency detention certificate. This will allow you to be kept in hospital for up to 72 hours. Before the doctor does this he or she must discuss this with an MHO and get his/her agreement, unless this is not possible. If possible, the MHO will interview you and will discuss your situation with the doctor. The MHO will then decide whether or not an emergency detention certificate is needed.

(iii) The Act says that before granting a short-term detention certificate the doctor must consult an MHO and get his/her agreement, otherwise your short-term detention cannot proceed. Before deciding whether to agree to the short-term detention certificate, the MHO should meet with you, unless there is good reason why they cannot do this. When the MHO sees you he/she will:

  • make an assessment of your current position and future needs
  • ask if you have a named person, and if not explain the role and assist you to appoint one
  • inform you of the availability of independent advocacy services, and take steps to make sure you have the opportunity to access those services. A separate guide provides information on independent advocacy (see page 12)
  • inform you of your right to a lawyer and advise on how to obtain one.

If the MHO is not able to interview you or find out who your named person is, then he/she will tell the doctor dealing with your case that he/she has not been able to do this. A separate guide provides information about the named person (see page 12).

The MHO must be consulted before the doctor grants an extension to the short term detention certificate, except where it is not possible for this discussion to take place.

(b) Compulsory treatment orders

If it is felt that you need longer-term care and treatment under the Act, then an application might be made by the MHO to the Tribunal for you to be placed under a CTO. A separate guide provides information on CTOs (see page 12).

The MHO who is making the application should identify your named person and explain what rights you have, e.g. your right to challenge the application and have your views heard by the Tribunal. The MHO should also give you information about independent advocacy services and help you contact this service if you need help to do this. They should also ensure that you are aware of your right to legal representation and advise how to obtain a lawyer.

If you are subject to a CTO your MHO will work with you and his or her opinion will be sought when the order is reviewed or varied.

If you have any communication difficulties the MHO must make sure you get the support you need.

(c) Orders related to criminal proceedings/offence

If you are involved in criminal proceedings the MHO might be called to advise the court on your case.

If you have been remanded on a pre-trial Assessment or Treatment Order an MHO will be appointed to work with you. Your MHO must produce an SCR within 21 days and will prepare an MHO report for the court.

If you have been remanded on a post-trial Assessment, Treatment or interim Compulsion Order an MHO will be appointed to work with you. The MHO must produce an SCR within 21 days and prepare an MHO report for the court (see section 5 below).

If you are subject to a Compulsion Order or a Restriction Order an MHO will be appointed to work with you and his or her opinion will be sought when the Compulsion Order is reviewed.

If the court has decided that you should be sent to hospital for treatment and issues a Hospital Direction you will have an MHO appointed to work with you for the period of time you are subject to this order. Your MHO must produce an SCR within 21 days and the MHO's opinion will be sought when the Direction is being reviewed.

If you are subject to a Transfer Direction that allows for you to be moved to a hospital, an MHO will be appointed to work with you for the duration of the Direction. Your MHO must produce an SCR within 21 days and the MHO's opinion will be sought when the Direction is being reviewed.