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Approved Mental Health Professionals are specialist professionals authorised to make ethically complex and difficult decisions on the behalf of people with severe mental health difficulties. In this complex and challenging role, AMHPs must possess and deploy a range of skills, knowledge and values. This invaluable handbook considers these challenges and provides in-depth guidance on all key aspects of the role, including:

• working with mental health law;

• risks and challenges in a Mental Health Act assessment;

• staying safe as an AMHP;

• resilience as a trainee and practitioner.

Packed with helpful features such as illustrations, chapter summaries, discussion questions and further reading lists, this clear and concise book will be invaluable to students on AMHP and Best Interests Assessor programmes, as well as for professionals in the field.

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Welcome to The Approved Mental Health Professional Practice Handbook. This book has been written to acknowledge the complexities of being an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) and the decisions to be taken under the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA). The book focuses on the practice of undertaking the role, as well as on training and continuing professional development (CPD). Engaging in MHA work is much broader than simply applying and interpreting mental health and other legislation correctly. This work requires an AMHP to focus on the practicalities, the ethical dilemmas involved and to engage in critical reflection to enable the outcomes for the person concerned to be at the forefront of the AMHP’s thinking. This handbook has been written in consultation with practitioners and those who can be subject to the provisions of the Act (persons being assessed, carers, Nearest Relatives [NRs]) to include as many perspectives as possible. Where relevant, these narratives are included in the chapters.

This handbook is designed for those who have already been approved as AMHPs, trainees and those who manage and educate both. It aims to be both a practical and reflective guide as well as a resource to apply and critique the complexities of the role. It will draw on relevant legislation, case law, Codes of Practice and Reference Guides but is not intended to be a law text. We recommend reading it alongside one of a number of law texts that exist, such as Richard Jones’ Mental Health Act Manual (Jones, 2019) or Brenda Hale’s Mental Health Law (Hale, 2017).

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AMHPs are employed in varied employment contexts throughout England and Wales: working within dedicated AMHP teams in local authorities (LAs); embedded in National Health Service (NHS) trusts, including mental health community teams; or working sessionally on a rota. Such diversity means that service delivery can be different from area to area and these differences may be reflected in practice. Alongside this, AMHPs are working within a legislative and policy context which can be interpreted differently across geographical regions. Therefore, it is necessary for the AMHP to understand their working context, to recognise these differences and to reflect on how this impacts on their work. This chapter aims to consider the AMHP in context, and explores the issues and themes that arise.

The AMHP role is probably one of the most powerful within England and Wales, and therefore for good reason is independent and autonomous. On the one hand an AMHP can be directed to consider a referral for an MHA assessment, yet on the other hand an AMHP makes decisions independently and cannot be directed to use their powers. The AMHP is central to coordinating professionals and resources for the purpose of assessing need and risk, and deciding if it is proportionate for a person to lose their liberty, even temporarily. We return to the issues of independence and proportionality in Chapter 3.

Through the making of an application for detention founded on medical recommendation(s), an AMHP can remove a person’s liberty: for up to 28 days (under MHA, s 2) or for up to six months, initially (under MHA, s 3).

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This chapter will include exploration of ethical issues for AMHP practice including:

  • proportionality;

  • types of ethics;

  • the ethical nature of the existence of mental health legislation and how this is reflected in reviews of it;

  • vicarious liability;

  • Guiding Principles; and

  • the concepts of good faith and reasonable care, including the Bolam test.

Robert Johns’ opening chapter in his book exploring ethics and law for social workers (Johns, 2016) is titled ‘But I want to be a social worker, not a philosopher!’ This exclamation captures the ultimate challenge faced by all social workers, which is perhaps brought into sharp relief for AMHPs, who must practise within a legal and ethical context, especially when dealing with the accompanying dilemmas that can arise. Ethics, a subdivision of philosophy, is concerned with moral issues, including the concepts of right and wrong. AMHPs make decisions, taking into consideration all the circumstances of the situation, which means that they must know how to weigh up ethical dilemmas proportionally when applying the law while also ensuring that they can account for their decisions. In doing so, AMHPs must follow their relevant professional codes of conduct or standards. These include:

  • the Health and Care Professions Council’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (HCPC, 2016), which apply to registered social workers, occupational therapists and psychologists;

  • the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s The Code (NMC, 2018);

  • the Mental Health Act 1983: Code of Practice for Wales (Welsh Assembly Government, 2016), which applies to social workers in Wales;

  • the College of Occupational Therapists’ (2015) Codes of Ethics and Professional Conduct;

  • the British Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics for Social Work (BASW, 2018); and

  • the British Psychological Society’s (2018) Codes of Ethics and Conduct.

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The chapter includes:

  • an exploration of social and medical perspectives;

  • a discussion of independence and where this overlaps with the social perspective;

  • a discussion of the social perspective and whether it fits naturally with a particular profession;

  • the Equality Act 2010; and

  • cultural competence, including working with diverse communities and in different geographical contexts.

The causes, manifestations, maintenance and recovery from mental health distress are not clear. Even the meaning attributed to each of those words can differ between professions. Despite this, professionals can, and do, assert that their particular paradigm of knowledge of mental disorder offers a better understanding than others, and you may have heard of differentiating perspectives, such as the social model, the medical model and social perspectives. For this reason, this chapter will explore these differing models to better understand their meaning for AMHP practice.

One of the aspects deemed important and adopted by, or imposed on, AMHPs is that of assessing social issues, or of bringing in the social perspective, as required by the AMHP Regulations (see the Chapter aim box at the beginning of the chapter). An AMHP is required to have a critical understanding of the social perspective of mental disorder and mental health needs and to apply this to their practice. However, questions arise as to what a social perspective is, what it is challenging, and whether a single definition can be uniformly applied to all situations or be adopted by one profession only.

In one edited collection exploring social perspectives in mental health, the authors write that understanding of ‘mental distress’ and ‘problems of living’ has appeared on many agendas, including sociology, psychology and social work, but despite this, there is a lack of clarity as to what exactly the social perspective is (Tew, 2005, p 13).

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This chapter explores the multi-professional role of the Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP), examining who can now be approved as AMHPs, and whether there is a difference in the way practitioners from different professional groups undertake the role, and in their own and others’ attitudes towards it.

The chapter includes:

  • details of the regulations that apply;

  • an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of diversification of professional background;

  • working in partnership;

  • some verbatim accounts by AMHPs from the differing eligible professions as to their views of the role.

The AMHP role has, since 3 November 2008, been available to four professional groups, as listed in Schedule 1 to the Mental Health (Approved Mental Health Professionals) (Approval) (England) Regulations (SI 2008/1206) and the Mental Health (Approved Mental Health Professionals) (Approval) (Wales) Regulations (SI 2008/2436), thereby dissolving the exclusive domination by social work of the approved status. The Mental Health Act 2007 brought in this amendment (as well as others), with the aim of diversifying eligibility.

AMHP status is attributed to a professional who is approved by a local authority (LA) to act and undertake the role. It offers a unique identity which is aligned to an eligible qualified professional, registered with the appropriate body.

The departure from social work dominance of the AMHP role is crystallised in section 114ZA(2) of the MHA for England, and section 114A of the MHA for Wales, where it is stated that the functions of an AMHP are not to be considered to be ‘relevant social work’ for the purposes of Part 4 of the Care Standards Act 2000 (in England), and Parts 3 to 8 of the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016.

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In this chapter we will consider the stages that are involved in progressing an MHA assessment from initial referral through to the differing outcomes that arise. These stages include an exploration of the information that an AMHP will need to seek, collect, analyse and weigh up before an MHA assessment is progressed, as well as establishing what risks are being communicated to the AMHP, and considering what outcomes others are seeking, to ensure that advancing an MHA referral is justifiable.

This chapter needs to be read alongside the MHA, the relevant case law, the MHA Codes of Practice and the Reference Guide, as it is not attempting primarily to be a ‘law chapter’ (although it does consider key legal provisions). Instead, this chapter seeks to map the process that an AMHP is likely to face and advise how to approach it, using practice wisdom gathered from wide sources.

Links will be made to Chapter 7 when considering the risks and challenges in MHA assessments.

This chapter includes:

  • taking the MHA assessment referral;

  • the MHA assessment;

  • resourcing the MHA assessment;

  • the MHA assessment interview;

  • the decision and outcome of the MHA assessment; and

  • the post-assessment requirements.

The reason we have divided the chapter into these subsections is to reflect the differing, but interrelated moments of AMHP work. In a qualitative study exploring the work of the AMHP’s predecessors, Approved Social Workers (ASWs), Quirk describes these subsections as: the build-up to the assessment, the assessment and the aftermath (Quirk, 2008). Each requires different skills and knowledge, but all are interlinked if robust practice is to be adhered to.

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In this chapter we will consider the unpredictability of MHA assessments, and some of the scenarios that can occur when assessing people under the MHA. This will include:

  • assessing children and young people;

  • those who abscond following an assessment interview;

  • assessing those who are already liable to be detained, such as those already subject to section 37/41, section 17 or section 17A;

  • managing confidentiality;

  • safeguarding adults and children from harm; and

  • the impact of inadequate resources.

There will also be an exploration of working with other professionals and the tensions that can arise through joint work. This chapter will cover the practicalities that an AMHP needs to consider when being involved in a community assessment and maintaining their own safety.

Despite an AMHP’s best attempts to predict and pre-empt the connotations, needs and risks within an MHA assessment, events and outcomes may occur which have not occurred previously and could not be predicted. Therefore, what is required is to think ahead about the possible scenarios that may unfold when undertaking MHA work and how to manage and resolve these. Also, the response to a challenge or difficulty will differ according to the legal status of the person at the centre of the MHA assessment; for example, whether they:

  • are at liberty, with the same privileges that we all have as members of the public;

  • are liable to be detained (in legal custody or at large) but not yet detained, for example on the basis that an application for admission to hospital has been made;

  • are actually being detained in hospital; and/or have been arrested by the police and are therefore subject to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

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As an AMHP engaging in mental health work with young people and adults, you will be using and interpreting the legislation contained within the MHA and the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) 2005, as well as the accompanying case law. When accepting a referral for an MHA assessment, the person being referred for assessment may be considered to lack capacity to make decisions regarding their care and treatment. In such cases, you will need to navigate the sometimes complex relationship between the two legal frameworks.

In England and Wales, the non-consensual care and treatment of people with mental health problems is governed largely by two parallel legal schemes: the MHA and the MCA 2005. In very broad terms, the MHA provides mainly for the detention and treatment of people in hospital for mental disorder on the basis of protection of the person and the public, and irrespective of mental capacity. The MCA 2005 applies only to those who lack the relevant decision-making capacity, covers (nearly) all decisions, and provides for deprivation of liberty based on the person’s best interests. There is considerable overlap between the two regimes, and the relationship can be extremely complex. This chapter briefly sets out how the MCA 2005 enables care and treatment to be delivered. It then explores the three primary interfaces between the two Acts: inpatient care and treatment, deprivation of liberty in hospital, and community MHA powers.

Whereas the MHA has no age limit, the MCA 2005 applies to those aged 16 and over. The interface therefore only arises in relation to people aged 16 and over; consequently this chapter does not address the position of children aged below 16.

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In this chapter we will explore the occasions where AMHPs engage community provisions, under the MHA, other than through MHA assessments, and under other legislation. Inpatient treatment, care and support will, for the vast majority of people, only be a temporary phase in their life. Notwithstanding that, for some, detention under the MHA may recur again in their lives. To this end, some people need a legal framework around them to enable them to remain in the community. To this end, the MHA permits a person’s freedom to be restricted to enable community living, but these restrictions must fall short of depriving that person of their liberty. This position has been crystallised by two important cases, MM v Secretary of State for Justice [2018] UKSC 60 and Welsh Ministers v PJ [2018] UKSC 66, which will be discussed later.

The Guiding Principles of the MHA express that ‘where it is possible to treat a patient safely and lawfully without detaining them under the [MHA], the patient should not be detained’, and that the person’s reasonably ascertainable past and present views, wishes and feelings should be considered (DH, 2015a, paras 1.2 and 1.8). To this end, enabling people to successfully reintegrate and live, or remain, in the community is the ambition, so as to promote recovery and uphold people’s rights. Indeed, section 13(2) of the MHA requires that AMHPs, before they make an application, must be satisfied that detention in hospital is in all the circumstances of the case the most appropriate way of providing the care and treatment that the person needs.

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