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      Mental health and capacity laws in Northern Ireland and the COVID-19 pandemic: Examining powers, procedures and protections under emergency legislation


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          This article examines the changes made to mental health and capacity laws in Northern Ireland through temporary emergency legislation, known as the Coronavirus Act 2020. The purpose of the legislation was to respond to the emergency situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the increase pressure placed on health services in the United Kingdom. An overview is provided of the government's rationale for the changes to Northern Ireland mental health and capacity laws, as well as exploring how they are likely to be operationalised in practice. Consideration is also given as to how such changes may impact upon existing human rights protections for persons assessed as lacking mental capacity. It is argued that it is important that regular parliamentary oversight is maintained in relation to the potential impact and consequences of such changes during the period they are in force. This should be done in order to assess whether they remain a necessary, proportionate and least restrictive response to the challenges faced in managing mental health and capacity issues in Northern Ireland during this public health emergency.

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          Most cited references34

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          Report 9: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand

          The global impact of COVID-19 has been profound, and the public health threat it represents is the most serious seen in a respiratory virus since the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Here we present the results of epidemiological modelling which has informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in recent weeks. In the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, we assess the potential role of a number of public health measures – so-called non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) – aimed at reducing contact rates in the population and thereby reducing transmission of the virus. In the results presented here, we apply a previously published microsimulation model to two countries: the UK (Great Britain specifically) and the US. We conclude that the effectiveness of any one intervention in isolation is likely to be limited, requiring multiple interventions to be combined to have a substantial impact on transmission. Two fundamental strategies are possible: (a) mitigation, which focuses on slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread – reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection, and (b) suppression, which aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely. Each policy has major challenges. We find that that optimal mitigation policies (combining home isolation of suspect cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspect cases, and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of severe disease) might reduce peak healthcare demand by 2/3 and deaths by half. However, the resulting mitigated epidemic would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over. For countries able to achieve it, this leaves suppression as the preferred policy option. We show that in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members. This may need to be supplemented by school and university closures, though it should be recognised that such closures may have negative impacts on health systems due to increased absenteeism. The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package – or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission – will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) – given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed. We show that intermittent social distancing – triggered by trends in disease surveillance – may allow interventions to be relaxed temporarily in relative short time windows, but measures will need to be reintroduced if or when case numbers rebound. Last, while experience in China and now South Korea show that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced.
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            Mental health law and the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities

            People with a mental illness may be subject to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), depending on definitions of terms such as ‘impairment’, ‘long-term’ and the capaciousness of the word ‘includes’ in the Convention's characterisation of persons with disabilities. Particularly challenging under the CRPD is the scope, if any, for involuntary treatment. Conventional mental health legislation, such as the Mental Health Act (England and Wales) appears to violate, for example, Article 4 (‘no discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability’), Article 12 (persons shall ‘enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life’) and Article 14 (‘the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty’). We argue that a form of mental health law, such as the Fusion Law proposal, is consistent with the principles of the CRPD. Such law is aimed at eliminating discrimination against persons with a mental illness. It covers all persons regardless of whether they have a ‘mental’ or a ‘physical’ illness, and only allows involuntary treatment when a person's decision-making capability (DMC) for a specific treatment decision is impaired — whatever the health setting or cause of the impairment — and where supported decision making has failed. In addition to impaired DMC, involuntary treatment would require an assessment that such treatment gives the person's values and perspective paramount importance.
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              The Wider Impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic on the NHS

              Abstract The coronavirus pandemic has had huge impacts on the National Health Service (NHS). Patients suffering from the illness have placed unprecedented demands on acute care, particularly on Intensive Care Units (ICUs). This has led to an effort to dramatically increase the resources available to NHS hospitals in treating these patients, involving re‐organisation of hospital facilities, redeployment of existing staff and a drive to bring in recently retired and newly graduated staff to fight the pandemic. These increases in demand and changes to supply have had large knock‐on effects on the care provided to the wider population. This paper discusses likely implications for healthcare delivery in the short and medium term of the responses to the coronavirus pandemic, focusing primarily on the implications for non‐coronavirus patients. Patterns of past care suggest those most likely to be affected by these disruptions will be older individuals and those living in more deprived areas, potentially exacerbating pre‐existing health inequalities. Effects are likely to persist into the longer‐run, with particular challenges around recruitment and ongoing staff shortages. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved

                Author and article information

                Int J Law Psychiatry
                Int J Law Psychiatry
                International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
                Published by Elsevier Ltd.
                22 June 2020
                22 June 2020
                : 101602
                [a ]School of Law, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, Ireland
                [b ]Joint Academic Psychiatry Trainee, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, Ireland
                [c ]Acute Mental Health Inpatient Centre, Belfast City Hospital, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Belfast BT7 1NN, Ireland
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. A.Farrell@ 123456qub.ac.uk
                S0160-2527(20)30061-3 101602
                © 2020 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

                Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.

                : 11 May 2020
                : 14 June 2020
                : 16 June 2020

                mental capacity law,mental health law,human rights,northern ireland,covid-19,coronavirus act 2020,emergency legislation


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