GPs are often asked to make Mental Capacity Assessments for patients. These assessments can be requested for a variety of different reasons. As GPs it is an essential part of our role that we are able to perform capacity assessments which relate to decisions regarding medical investigations, treatment and care. However capacity assessments relating to overall welfare, finances and property are often more complex and sit outside our expertise.
The level of risk and responsibility linked to capacity assessments can be extremely high. Decisions such as whether someone’s house is sold or how their life savings are spent can depend on capacity assessments. It is therefore essential that adequate time and attention is dedicated to these assessments. It is also essential that those carrying out these assessments for legal purposes are highly trained and experienced in this area.
Legal capacity assessments do not fall within the NHS duties of GPs. Some GPs do agree to perform these assessments privately at a fee, but many others feel the risks of doing so are too high or that the time needed to perform an adequate assessment is not available to them. There are other professionals who can perform mental capacity assessments including solicitors and psychiatrist.
As a surgery we do not feel we have the capacity to offer Mental Capacity Assessments for legal purposes for our patients. To do so would require significant resources being diverted from our core duties as a health care provider. It would also pose a significant legal and financial risk to our GPs. We feel there are other professionals available with more appropriate training, legal protection and expertise who can perform these assessments.
We realise that this practice policy may cause some inconvenience to our patients but hope you can understand that our priority must be to our core NHS duties as a health care provider. If, in the future, the funding crisis in General Practice is adequately addressed by government we may find ourselves able to reconsider our position.