Care homes and the Mental Capacity Act 2005: Changes in understanding and practice over time

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The Mental Capacity Act 2005 provides the legal framework in England and Wales for the making of decisions in respect of people who have never had or have lost decision-making capacity. As part of a 5-year research program investigating the implementation and adoption of the Mental Capacity Act in dementia practice, we interviewed staff working in different care homes at two time points (32 staff at Time 1 in 2008 and 27 staff at Time 2 in 2012) in South East England. At baseline Time 1, daily practice seemed to resonate with Mental Capacity Act principles of respecting decisions and trying to act in a person's best interests. This paper reports Time 2 findings. We found that few care home staff interviewed specifically reported finding the Mental Capacity Act helpful in crystallizing the legal basis of their work. Most continued to offer illustrations of day-to-day practice in which they paid attention to individual choices, took account of the wishes of residents' families, and tried to act in residents' best interests but referred major decisions to their seniors. This study highlights the potential of referring to specific day-to-day practice in care homes when offering training or scrutinizing practice in dementia care more generally so that the work is set in its legal as well as moral framework. Care home staff in this study reported that advanced planning and pre-specifying preferences were more common among new care home residents, especially those with dementia, indicating that greater understanding of these is required by staff.

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