Mental health coronavirus legislation powers must be repealed, say MSPs

07.07.2020

A Holyrood Committee has reiterated its call for unnecessary and arbitrary powers contained in emergency coronavirus legislation to be repealed in order to protect the rights of people with mental health conditions.

 

Schedule 9 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 provides for longer periods of emergency detention and makes it simpler for securing short-term detention certificates and compulsory treatment orders, but the powers have not yet been brought into force.

In a letter to the Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie MSP, the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee urged the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government to repeal that part of the legislation. 

The Committee, which is investigating the human rights impact of Covid-19 and the effect of the emergency measures imposed on people across Scotland, said that while the need to take preventative actions to protect the National Health Service and people who need emergency intervention quickly was understandable, the circumstances had materially changed.

MSPs therefore asked the Scottish Government for a detailed, evidence-based response as to why it considers these powers continue to be justifiable and proportionate to necessitate the same level of state involvement as was necessary at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.  

Committee Convener, Ruth Maguire MSP, said:  

Coupled with this overarching point is the Committee’s concern around the lack of detail about when use of the legislation would be triggered.

As a human rights defender, the Committee considers this approach is the very reason why legislation, a blunt instrument, should be repealed. Having the power as a ‘backstop’ while not having a clear threshold, and awaiting an arbitrary six-month review is an unacceptable position when people’s rights are being removed.”

A further concern of the Committee has been the measures put in place to ensure vulnerable older people’s human rights are being protected during the public health crisis, following reports that elderly patients hospitalised during the coronavirus pandemic have been pressured into signing “do not resuscitate” forms.

The Committee has heard evidence that older people had been encouraged by healthcare workers to complete “Do Not Attempt CPR” forms – which state that potentially life-saving CPR should not be performed should their heart stop – without patients fully understanding the implications.

MSPs called on the Scottish Government to undertake an investigation into the circumstances that led to DNACPR forms being given to older people without conversations taking place between clinicians and patients in advance or advocacy being sought.

The letter states: “The Committee considers it is of considerable importance to understand what has happened in relation to DNACPR forms. Older people’s human rights must be protected, and steps taken to ensure that any roll back is remedied immediately.

Only by inquiring into the circumstances will the Scottish Government fully understand why the guidance, which is familiar to clinicians, was insufficient in these circumstances and what actions should be taken to prevent a reoccurrence in the future.” 

Background

On 27 April the Equalities and Human Rights Committee launched an inquiry into the implications for equalities and human rights arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. The remit of the inquiry is: “To consider what groups and individuals are disproportionately impacted by COVID 19; identify what the Scottish Government and other public bodies, including regulatory and oversight bodies, need to do to ensure that measures taken in relation to the pandemic minimise negative effects on equality and human rights; and examine measures taken by the Scottish Government and other public bodies and the impacts they may have on equality and human rights.”

Responses and links to the official report of evidence sessions, along with correspondence relating to the Committee’s inquiry, can be found here.

 

 

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