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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C

'Role of family' in mental health patients' care to be considered in new legislation

The Department of Health is looking at the role of patients’ relatives in mental health treatment and care.

POTENTIAL NEW LEGISLATION would review the role of families in the treatment and care of an individual’s mental health.

Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler is to bring draft legislation forward next month to update the Mental Health Act 2001 before the Dáil takes its summer recess. 

The expected legislation comes on the back of a review of the act by an expert group, which recommended that families should be consulted in decisions on whether a person should be involuntarily detained.

The group’s report was published over six years ago after it started its review in 2012 and made 165 recommendations.

The expert group recommended that a person should be able to consult their family while making treatment decisions and that inpatients should have access to an advocate of their choice.

A patient should be able to consult their advocate when needed, such as before or during a mental health tribunal or when making decisions about their care and treatment.

It did not recommend that a person’s medical information should be shared without their consent.

In a statement, Butler said the Department of Health is “considering the role of advocacy and the role of family members in a person’s care and treatment in the context of the review of the Mental Health Act, in line with the Expert Group recommendations”.

“I expect to bring to government draft legislation to update the Mental Health Act in full before the summer recess. It will be published shortly thereafter, and introduced to the Houses of the Oireachtas this autumn,” Butler said.

“Sharing the Vision, Ireland’s national mental health policy, clearly states that there is a role for family, carers and supporters in a person’s care and treatment,” she said.

“I appreciate the importance of involving family members as much as possible in a person’s care and treatment, with the consent of the individual, and support efforts to enhance family member involvement.”

Mental health campaigners have been pushing the government to publish the general scheme of a new Mental Health Act, which would deliver on a commitment made by former minister for mental health Kathleen Lynch.

One loophole under existing legislation means that “voluntary” mental health patients have a diminished right to appeal detention.

Andrew McGinley, the father of three children whose mother was found not guilty of their murder by reason of insanity, has called for the HSE’s mental health services to be improved so other families don’t find themselves in his position.

In a statement on Thursday, he asked the HSE to conduct an “inclusive investigation into Deirdre’s [Morley, his wife] diagnosis, treatment and medication prior to this tragedy”.

“We ask for this to be conducted as a matter of urgency. This will help us understand the insanity that took the lives of our beloved Conor, Darragh and Carla,” he said.

“We as a family need to be included in any investigation as our exclusion during her treatment has left us with many unanswered questions.

“We believe that an inclusive investigation can only serve to inform clinicians in their practice and therefore avoid tragedies like ours happening again. We do not want any other family to suffer as we have.”

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