Mental Capacity Act illuminated by the redoubtable Ridouts team

Steven Gauge

Last night I found myself at an event featuring a Czar, a Mandarin, a Government Inspector and a Forensic Psychiatrist. No, it was not the opening night of a newly discovered Chekov play.

This eclectic line up had been assembled by the genial Paul Ridout and his firm of brilliant care sector legal specialists, Ridouts, in the interests of increasing understanding of the Mental Capacity Act.

The star performance of the night came from Professor Alistair Burns, the Government’s Dementia Czar. After tantalisingly promising to reveal his secrets for avoiding Alzheimer’s he effortlessly rattled off a barrage of statistics that set out a compelling story about the syndrome that cost the economy £23 billion a year.

Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, is the disease that is most feared by people over 55. Less than half of people living with dementia currently have a diagnosis and addressing this is a top Czarist priority. Early diagnosis can dramatically improve the quality of life for sufferers and there are cognitive therapies that can reduce the need for powerful anti-psychotic drugs. But whilst one quarter of NHS beds are occupied by people with dementia, 83% of carers want support to allow them to be looked after at home.

Lucy Bonnerjea, the senior civil service mandarin responsible for the Mental Capacity Act set out extremely clearly the principles of the act that represents a huge shift in legal attitudes from the days of lunatic asylums and forced sterilisation. The assumption that people have the capacity to make their own decisions unless proven otherwise is a key feature of the act along with the provision that people are allowed to make ‘unwise’ decisions.

Simon Spoerer very ably played the part of the Government Inspector representing the Care Quality Commission and Dr Adrian Lord from the Priory was the Psychiatrist. Both described the ethical issues involved in balancing human rights and the duty of care. Rachel Griffiths from the Social Care Institute for Excellence illustrated the challenge even more clearly with a delightful story about a lady called Peggy with dementia who wanted to go on a cruise with her gentlemen friend. Peggy’s care staff blocked the trip fearing a tumble into the sea until a Judge stepped in, using the Mental Capacity Act, allowing Peggy to set to sea.

And finally we received Prof Burns’ top tips for avoiding dementia:

1. Keep your arteries clear of things like cholesterol
2. Keep active physically and mentally
3. 2 glasses of red wine a night prevents Alzheimer’s (but two bottles gives you frontal lobe dementia)
4. Plenty of Curry – specifically turmeric
So in that case, as soon as I finish the Times Crossword, I’m jogging round to the Raj Tandoori House for a Biryani and a couple of glasses of merlot – by order of the Dementia Czar. Cheers.

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