The importance of the lived experience of carers in the Scottish Mental Health Law Review

Written by: John Scott QC, Independent Chair of the Scottish Mental Health Law Review

Published: 24/11/2020

John Scott QC tells us about the review of the mental health legislation and in particular the role of paid and unpaid carers.

The Scottish Mental Health Law Review (this link will take you away from our website) is moving towards the end of another phase in the review, with our next Interim Report due to be submitted to the Minister for Mental Health next month (December 2020). It is hoped that the report will be published before the end of the year. It will explain where we are and the work done since the last Interim Report (this link will take you away from our website) published in June 2020 and Summary of the Responses to our Call for Evidence (this link will take you away from our website) published in July 2020.

Work continues in a number of ways, particularly through our five Advisory Groups – Communications and Engagement; Compulsion; Capacity and Support for Decision Making; Social, Economic and Cultural Rights; and Children and Young People.

As with the Executive Team, each group consists of an equal number of those with lived experience and practitioners. Obviously, “lived experience” and “practitioners” are merely general descriptions to reflect the intention of how we will work. These terms are not exclusive silos – there are practitioners with lived experience and those with lived experience who are practitioners.

It is impossible to talk about working in 2020 without acknowledging the huge impact of the pandemic. It has required some of our secretariat to be pulled back for other duties within Government. It has also affected several of those working with us, in terms of additional pressures and workload. Many have been trying just to get through, with lived experience networks focusing on the safety and wellbeing of members.

More recently, in place of another secretariat member who has been promoted within Government, the former Public Guardian for Scotland, Sandra McDonald, has joined us, adding her considerable experience to our impressive secretariat.

The pandemic has really highlighted the role of carers, especially unpaid carers.

Lockdown has affected us all but it is recognised that it has exacerbated existing inequalities and the various burdens of vulnerable and deprived parts of society. Many of the vulnerable were more susceptible to the health implications of the pandemic and required to “shield”. Shielding and lockdown undoubtedly added to the load of carers. Many carers are themselves vulnerable, thereby further complicating their role as carers, especially where they do not live with the person for whom they care.

The pandemic has forced us to confront some of the inequalities society has tended to ignore or forget. Government has spoken about these inequalities and the need for greater support for those affected. This must include proper recognition and support for carers, without whom the country would have been in even greater trouble.

There has been another development within the Review which, among other things, emphasises the importance of the lived experience of carers to our work.  We will have Karen Martin and Graham Morgan sharing the role of vice chair with lived experience. Karen is able to represent the views of carers, with Graham the views of those with lived experience of services.

Our Interim Report will outline forward thinking as well as progress, with the possibility of additional Advisory Groups to be discussed. In addition, we are discussing the possibility of establishing Reference Groups, perhaps one of practitioners and one from lived experience.

Although we have made excellent progress, continuing to reflect what we heard in the many responses to the Call for Evidence in how we proceed, we are not at a stage where we can make interim recommendations. Instead, where possible, we may look to offer some provisional thinking for further discussion.

We look forward to continuing to engage with all affected by, and interested in, Scotland’s mental health law. As we said in June, if you have found new ways of working and keeping in touch which work for you, consider whether we could hear from you, for example, by coming along to your virtual meetings.

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