HC Deb 18 October 1982 vol 29 cc131-4
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I beg to move amendment No. 108, in page 2, leave out from line 37 to line 42 and insert— '(lA) Within 3 days of the admission of a patient for assessment, the hospital managers shall take such steps as are practicable to inform the person (if any) appearing to be the nearest relative of the patient that the admission has been made and of the power'.'. 12 midnight

The amendment proposes three significant changes to clause 3(2). First, it transfers the burden of contacting the nearest relative about the compulsory admission of the patient from the mental health officer to the hospital administration. Secondly, it provides a timetable for such contact to be made. I suggested a maximum of three days, although obviously one would want contact to be made as quickly as possible—within 24 hours. That effectively eliminates the involvement of the nearest relatives who are not already directly and personally involved with the patient. I shall explain the advantages in a moment, but I want to stress that it does not remove the new right already introduced in the Bill for the nearest relative to be informed of the patient's admission.

I argue in favour of the proposed amendment, first, on the ground of efficiency. Hospital management and administrations are already in the business of providing information to the nearest relatives. Surely, they are in a better position to offer a more practical and efficient channel of information about admission or application for admission than the mental welfare officer.

Secondly, this change would eliminate a potential conflict between the parties currently involved with the patient—the welfare officer and the nearest relative. The officer dealing with the admission is already involved in the tense and strained circumstances surrounding the admission. The Bill, as drafted, imposes on him the further duty of informing the nearest relative. He knows that it will only add to his present problems and difficulties. If that responsibility were shifted to the hospital administration, as I propose, it would eliminate that anxiety for the mental welfare officer.

Thirdly, the health care treatment provided by the mental welfare officer is likely to be better, because he will be free of the responsibility of locating and contacting the relatives, that being henceforth, as a result of my amendment, the task of the hospital administration. He will have more time to devote to the important tasks involved in treatment. If my amendment is not accepted, I suspect that we shall need more mental welfare officers because of the extra duties proposed in this clause.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I thank the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) for giving way. Will he explain what he means by "inform"? If the hospital administrator does that, it tends to be done by letter or telephone, and there may be difficulty in passing on the information. If the mental welfare officer does it, "inform" will entail more than the actual provision of information; it will involve ensuring that the person who receives the information also understands it.

Mr. Atkinson

I had hoped that the message in support of my amendment was clear—that the hospital administration would be in a better position to get in touch with the nearest relatives.

The only possible theoretical objection to the amendment that I can foresee is that if there is no nearest relative directly or personally involved with the patient, the nearest relative or relatives, whoever or wherever they may be, are unlikely to be informed of compulsory admission until after the admission. However, those relatives who wish to be kept informed will already be informed because of their personal involvement with the patient. If they are not already closely involved with the patient, the information about admission would not require them to take advantage of the right of discharge on behalf of the patient.

In conclusion, I am tempted to describe some examples that would illustrate the impracticalities of the clause, but in view of the late hour I shall resist the temptation. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my arguments and recommend my amendment to the House.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) tried to show the difficulties that may arise if we leave the Bill in its present form. I shall try to convince him that his proposal will not be helpful. If the House approves the amendment the social worker will not then be required to tell the patient's family that he was about to be admitted to hospital under compulsory powers. It is essential that the social worker should be in touch with the family and should keep them informed, but on occasion the admission may be urgent and the social worker may not find the relative in time. In that case, the news of the admission must come afterwards.

Clause 3(2) requires the social worker to take such steps as are practicable, so there is no question that contacting the family might cause undesirable delay. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, in many cases social work intervention with the family may help to avoid a hospital admission. Therefore, I do not support a proposal that suggests that the social worker need not contact the relatives. I hope that the nearest relative would be contacted within three days, but if it takes four days or a week it is still important to keep trying. It is better to have the words "a reasonable time" because they will be interpreted sensibly to reflect the circumstances.

I hope that my hon. Friend will see that, helpful though he is trying to be, his proposal will not achieve what he wishes and that the relatives would be best served by leaving matters where they are. I hope that I can persuade him to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. David Atkinson

Perhaps I should have referred to some of the examples that I had in mind in order to describe the practicalities of my amendment, but, in view of what my hon. Friend said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 3, leave out lines 3 to 14.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 14, 16 and 74.

Mr. Finsberg

The amendments seek only to make technical corrections to clause 3(2)(1B) that was added to the Bill as a result of an amendment moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Davis). It substitutes for the hon. Gentleman's amendment a new subsection in the part of the legislation that deals with the duties of mental welfare officers—section 54 of the Act and clause 16 of the Bill. That is a more appropriate place for the provisions.

It also removes the reference to hospital managers because they do not employ social workers and cannot therefore instruct a social worker to investigate a case. The requirement about the prescribed forms has been replaced by the requirement that the social worker records his reasons in writing. That does not weaken the requirement, but makes it simpler to operate and far less bureaucratic.

We have also taken the opportunity to correct a reference in section 54(1) to the "local authority" so that it refers to the "local social services authority." so that it refers to the "local social services authority." The amendments do no more than tidy up an excellent part of the Bill in response to suggestions made in Committee.

Mr. Terry Davis

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. Amendment No. 1 deletes a provision added in Committee against the Government's wishes, but Government amendment No. 16 replaces that provision elsewhere. The Minister referred to a difference in the provision. The original amendment deliberately placed an obligation on the social services or hospital managers. I intended that nearest relatives should be able to contact hospital managers. I did not appreciate that social workers and mental welfare officers are not employed by hospital managers. I am happy to accept that all such workers are employed by local authorities. I am grateful to the Government for agreeing with the Committee and tabling a sensible amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

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