On 9th May 2016, the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) (MCA (NI)) became law.

The Act is a significant step forward for promoting the dignity, autonomy and human rights of citizens of Northern Ireland and is the first piece of law in the world to combine mental health and mental capacity law.

This means that if a person has capacity, they can make decisions about their medical treatment even if they have a mental health condition.

At the same time, the Act provides a framework for making decisions on behalf of people who lack capacity and uses the principle of best interests to guide this.

The MCA (NI) also allows people to plan ahead for their future treatment and care. This means that people in Northern Ireland will be able to record their wishes and preferences for care with greater confidence that their wishes will be followed if they lose capacity in the future.

Advance Decisions and LPAs

The Act means that people in Northern Ireland will now be able to make Lasting Powers of Attorney for their finances and for their health and welfare. This means they will be able to make sure that someone they trust will have the legal power to make decisions about their medical treatment and care. People will also be able to make Advance Decisions to Refuse Treatment, which have been given legal force under the Act, as long as they are ‘effective’. More information on how to make sure an Advance Decision will be effective will be available when the Code of Practice is launched.

It’s not clear yet when the MCA (NI) will come into force. A lot needs to be done to make sure that the Act’s principles are embedded into health and social care so that it is implemented successfully. This includes effective training and awareness raising for healthcare professionals and the public, as well as making sure that it is as clear and straightforward as possible for people to plan ahead for a loss of capacity.

We look forward to supporting people in Northern Ireland to make sure their wishes for their future treatment and care are respected and will update you as soon as we know more.