What is an Independent Mental Health Advocate?


Mental Health Act - What is an Independent Mental Health Advocate?



The Independent Mental Health Advocate is trained to work within the framework of the Mental Health Act. The Independent Mental Health Advocate role provides an additional safeguard for service users who are subject to the Mental Health Act. The Independent Mental Health Advocate works alongside mental health services to ensure that “qualifying service users” are supported to understand the information they have been given under the Mental Health Act and that their rights are upheld.

What is a qualifying service user?

Qualifying service user s are people who are detained under specific sections of the Mental Health Act. This would include;
  • Service users detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. However, Independent Mental Health Advocate services do not apply to s4, s5 or s135/136.
  • Service users subject to a Guardianship Order
  • Service users on Supervised Community Treatment
  • Conditionally discharged, restricted service user s
  • Service users being considered for Section 57 or 58A Treatment.
  • Section 58A Service users qualify if they are under 18.

What is the role of an Independent Mental Health Advocate?

The role of the Independent Mental Health Advocate is not just to give information, but to ensure that staff provide information to service users in a way that elicits their understanding and empowers them. The Independent Mental Health Advocate is not intended to replace legal representation. The Independent Mental Health Advocate will support the service user to understand their rights and treatment options. The Independent Mental Health Advocate can attend meetings, reviews and Mental Health Tribunals.

What are the limitations of the role of an Independent Mental Health Advocate?

There are some limitations to the role. Independent Mental Health Advocate services do not apply to service users detained on s4, s5 or s135/136. The Independent Mental Health Advocate is trained to work within the framework of the Mental Health Act to support the qualifying service user. The Independent Mental Health Advocate is unable to provide specific support to the service user’s nearest relative however; there are other advocacy services available that can provide support to the nearest relative.

What is an Open Advocacy Model?

The Health Committee of the House of Commons (2013) recommended that Independent Mental Health Advocates become an opt-out rather than an opt-in service to help address the difficulties service users face in accessing advocacy and to eliminate some of the practical problems clinicians face in making service users aware of their right to request an Independent Mental Health Advocate. Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust have adopted an open advocacy model to ensure equal access to Independent Mental Health Advocate services. Staff have a duty to inform “qualifying service users” about the availability of Independent Mental Health Advocates. Staff must take whatever steps are practicable to ensure that service users understand that support is available to them and how they can obtain that support. This must include giving the relevant information both orally and in writing. Staff must advise service users that they will be automatically referred to the Independent Mental Health Advocate service unless they object. Providing the service user has the capacity to make the decision automatic referral to Independent Mental Health Advocate will be facilitated. One of the key principles of the Mental Capacity Act is that any decision made on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must be done, or made, in that person’s best interests. If the service user is assessed to lack the capacity to make the decision about an Independent Mental Health Advocate referral, the team would decide whether a referral should be made in the service user s best interests.