Important that we make full use of our legal rights

Gary Rycroft.
Gary Rycroft.

Last week I was at The Kings Fund in London, which is a charity concerned with promoting good practice in health and social care, to speak at a conference about dementia.

I was there to talk about the Mental Capacity Act, a law in force since 2007 designed to empower persons with mental capacity issues.

The conference had a positive message in terms of the increased awareness nowadays of dementia. However, media coverage is a waste of time unless individual lives are improved.

The act enshrines in law certain key principles, including the assumption that everyone has capacity unless it can be proved otherwise, that everyone one should be supported to make their own decisions for as long as possible and that an unwise decision does not equate to a lack of capacity.

The Mental Capacity Act also put in place a framework for allowing decision making to be delegated in the event of a lack of capacity, by way of entering into a Lasting Power of Attorney.

It also recognised in law for the first time the validity of an advance decision to refuse medical treatment, which permits a person to set out circumstances where they would not want to be treated e.g. having severe dementia and then getting pneumonia; in that situation some people would want not want medical intervention, others most certainly would.

The thrust of my talk was that whilst we all have available various legal rights mentioned, they are rights which are woefully under used.

This is a shame because it means important decisions are made by professionals rather than family or friends.

It also means people are not receiving the type of medical treatment they would like if they could still decide for themselves.

The conference had a positive message in terms of the increased awareness nowadays of dementia. However, media coverage is a waste of time unless individual lives are improved.

This is why awareness of the legal rights which are available is important.

Last week I wrote about the Magna Carta and the Mental Capacity Act is a kind of Magna Carta for mental capacity.

I am not saying doctors and social workers are like King John, but unless we make Lasting Powers of Attorneys and Advance Decisions the norm, we will in effect allow others to limit our liberty to make the decisions we would want for ourselves.