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New support for Independent Mental Health Advocates

17 March 2015

Press Office

UCLan researcher co-develops new resources to ensure people detained in hospital have a voice  

Being detained in hospital or on being on a Community Treatment Order can be a confusing and distressing experience. Under the Mental Health Act 2007, an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA) can help by supporting people to get their opinions heard and to make sure that they know their rights.

Research for the Department of Health published by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in 2012 entitled ‘The Right to be Heard’, found variations in the access to, and uptake of, IMHAs. Only around half of those eligible actually had access to one. It also found those who need IMHA the most (for instance, older people, people with learning disabilities, and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups) are the most likely to miss out. The Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) 2015 annual report of the Mental Health Act found that 20% of people sectioned in hospital did not have their rights properly explained to them.

“Our research reveals that the reasons qualifying patients are not using IMHA services point to a lack of awareness or understanding of the service, and thus how it can help."

UCLan and the the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) have launched twelve new resources at an event at the House of Lords. The suite of briefings, reports and films offer straight forward information about IMHAs for service users and mental health staff to improve access, as well as everything that commissioners and advocacy services need to know to provide high-quality IMHA services. The new resources are:

  • Briefing: Understanding IMHA for service users
  • Easy read version: Understanding IMHA for service users
  • Social Care TV film; Understanding IMHA for service users
  • Briefing: Understanding IMHA for mental health staff
  • Social Care TV film: Understanding IMHA for mental health staff
  • Briefing: Commissioning Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) services in England, 10 Top tips for commissioners
  • What does a good IMHA service look like?
  • Briefing: Improving equality of access to IMHA
  • Report: Improving equality of access to IMHA
  • Social Care TV film: Improving equality of access to IMHA
  • Improving Access to Independent Mental Health Advocacy for Providers of Mental Health Services
  • Report: How to measure the outcomes of IMHA

UCLan’s Dr Julie Ridley, Reader in Applied Social Sciences and Co-project Lead, said: “The latest CQC figures show increased rates of detention and Community Treatment Orders, meaning increased demand for IMHA services.

“Our research reveals that the reasons qualifying patients are not using IMHA services point to a lack of awareness or understanding of the service, and thus how it can help. Urgent action is required to increase the quality and the accessibility of IMHA provision, and the resources we have produced will help to promote it more widely among service users and mental health professionals.”

“Improving access to IMHA and the quality of IMHA are important and complex issues; issues which no one body can solve by themselves."

SCIE’s Chair, Lord Michael Bichard, who hosted the House of Lords event commented: “Improving access to IMHA and the quality of IMHA are important and complex issues; issues which no one body can solve by themselves. Advocacy providers, commissioners, regulators, central government, mental health professionals and service users need to work together to ensure that everyone who is eligible for an IMHA gets to see one. Then, when they do access an IMHA, they should receive a high quality service - because everyone has the right to heard.”

The resources have been co-produced with peer researchers and other service users, so that they draw on people’s direct experiences. Users were involved in a number of roles including as advisory group members, writers, film-makers, editors and project lead.

Survivor consultant June Sadd was a peer researcher for the UCLan ‘Right to be Heard’ review. She said: “I see, in effective advocacy provision, the ‘seeds of empowerment’ for people with mental health and other social care issues. I know from my experiences that access to an IMHA would have been invaluable when I suddenly found myself detained in a mental health unit, in great distress with no understanding of my rights, or what was going on.”

Access to an IMHA can ensure people’s rights are respected, can greatly enhance the service user experience and can improve staff and service user relations and support prevention.