Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Formalising role of triage AMHP in new Mental Health Act

I mentioned the death of Matt Simpson in a recent post. His PhD thesis ‘An Appreciative Inquiry into Approved Mental Health Professional decision making at the point of referral for a Mental Health Act assessment' is well worth reading. Essentially it makes the case for more, indeed the formalising of, early decision making by a triage Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) to avoid the need for an assessment process involving doctors. The AMHP has a clear duty under S13(1) of the Mental Health Act (MHA) to consider the patient’s case. The thesis also argues for more availability of a shared pathway to assessment by the AMHP with doctors seeking alternatives to detention, promoting a multi-agency emphasis on less restriction.

The thesis is wide-ranging and provides rich detail. As in the title, it used the method of appreciative inquiry, asking AMHPs to consider their current practice, define the aspects of practice that are most valued, and use that understanding to clarify and validate their practice for the future. 

AMHP assessment with doctors usually leads to detention. Indeed, AMHP services are generally structured on arranging joint assessment with doctors as swiftly as possible. As all AMHPs know, though, finding appropriate doctors is not always easy and can take some time, but joint assessment usually takes place on the same day as referral. High likelihood of detention through assessment with doctors doesn’t necessarily align well with the principle of least restriction and maximising the independence of the person.

The concept of assessment was explicitly extended in the research to include the process of information gathering, multi-agency working, and the inclusion of the referred person and their family before the traditional assessment interview with an AMHP and two doctors. As Matt Simpson said in the thesis:-

This S13(1) MHA 1983 decision-making process is an assessment in itself, with AMHPs only involving doctors in an assessment if this process has exhausted all options and detention has become the only viable outcome in the AMHP’s opinion.

Triage AMHPs could be expected to complete an assessment to conclude that either detention appears to be the only viable outcome or that it can be avoided, potentially reducing the numbers of detentions by formalising the process of this stage. AMHPs in the research also advocated for a more formal inclusive and collaborative pathway to assessment with doctors, that shares complexity and explores alternatives to detention. AMHPs need to use their experience to lower the perception of risk if possible and appropriate. 

Reducing detention was the original political motivation for the current MHA reforms (see eg. previous post). There are concerns that current proposals do not go far enough (see eg. another previous post and recent post on The Critical AHMP blog - see previous post). Certainly formalising the role of a triage AMHP has not really been considered in the reform process, as far as I know, and it should be, considering it could well reduce the numbers of detentions. There is also scope, I think, for formalising a requirement in the new Act for AMHPs to discuss alternatives to detention with doctors and other professionals involved in the care of the patient before actually assessing the patient with two doctors with a view to detention. This process could share the responsibility for any decision not to proceed with detention by the AMHP.

It may even be worth considering going even further in reform to reduce detention by removing the risk criterion altogether from the criteria for detention under the Act, as has been done in Italy (see previous post). There is a sense in which mental health services need to concentrate on their therapeutic role rather than necessarily be seen as ‘social policeman’, not that I’m denying the inevitable social role of psychiatry. What determines whether someone needs to be detained is that there are mental changes in the person that require urgent therapeutic detention in hospital which the person does not accept. Of course, some of these people will be at risk to themselves or others, but explicitly removing that focus on risk may lead to a better assessment of the need for intervention, at least for civil cases. 

The Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD) makes clear that people with disabilities can only be detained on the same basis (or for the same reasons) as anybody else (see eg. previous post). There are plenty of people without mental disorder who are dangerous, but they are not detained unless arrested for and sentenced after a crime. It does seem non-discriminatory, therefore, to remove the risk criterion in the Mental Health Act. Mental health services do need to move away from their over-preoccupation with risk (see eg. another previous post).

Changes have been made in the criteria for detention in the current proposals, basically about trying to shift the criteria to the serious end of the spectrum of mental disorder, although there is a question about how much difference this will really make in practice, as deciding on seriousness is so subjective. Still, it’s not too late in producing a Bill to consider again completely reviewing the criteria for detention in the context of introducing the formal role of the triage AMHP, who will have to make any application to detain on the basis of these criteria, together with two doctors. It’s not new that detention requires the agreement of all three of AMHP plus two doctors. Strengthening the authority of the AMHP in that process, I think, will be helpful. AMHPs need to learn to see their role more as a safeguard against detention, rather than merely rubber-stamping what two doctors think should happen. 

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