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Trust expert’s work on mental health tribunals shortlisted for national prestigious award

20 Jun 22

Mental health review tribunals can be particularly difficult for people with learning disabilities and autism. People with learning disabilities and autism can find it difficult to attend, communicate, understand and follow the proceedings making these hearings particularly disadvantageous and distressing for them.

The work of Dr Indermeet Sawhney, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director for Learning Disability Services at Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT), has changed how mental health tribunals are conducted nationally and for this reason has been shortlisted for a national award.

Anyone sectioned under the Mental Health Act can apply for a Mental Health Review Tribunal hearing to consider whether it is safe and appropriate for them to be discharged, but Dr Sawhney and her team identified serious concerns about as to whether the process was fair, appropriate and engaging for people with a learning disability (LD).

Dr Sawhney highlighted a series of reasonable adjustments to improve the experience of people with learning difficulties at such tribunal hearings.

Dr Sawhney worked with fellow professionals, health access champions and people with LD on ways to ensure the process was much easier to understand and fairer – allowing those involved to engage and have their say. Feedback strongly favoured changes to the existing process to ensure it aligned with the Equality Act (2010).

Dr Sawhney devised ‘easy read’ guidance for ‘face-to-face’ and virtual tribunal hearings which were co-produced with experts by experience – people with LD who help the Trust to shape and develop its services – and it has now been adopted by the Faculty of Intellectual Disability at the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service. The guidance is available on the gov.UK website at  What to expect at a Mental Health Tribunal hearing (EasyRead guide) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The project, Making Reasonable Adjustments Mental Health Tribunal hearings for people with learning disabilities, was entered into the Learning Disabilities Initiative of the Year category at this year’s HSJ Patient Safety Awards, which recognise outstanding contribution to healthcare.

The entry has been shortlisted from hundreds of applicants, selected for its ambition, visionary spirit and the positive impact it has had on service users.

Dr Sawhney said: “I am delighted to see this work recognised in this way and thrilled to have been shortlisted. More importantly, I am really pleased that these changes will greatly improve the experience of people who were previously disadvantaged by the hearings process.

“That previous process could not be fair if the very people who are the subject of such hearings could not understand the way they were being conducted and did not know how they could have their say in trying to determine the outcome. The process needed to be much more inclusive and accessible so that the people are at the centre of the hearing could engage with it in a meaningful way.

“Given the implications of a tribunal’s decision on a person’s liberty, it is very important that people with a learning disability have an equal opportunity to engage with the process and to have their voices heard.”

The project will now go through a further judging process, with the winner announced at the awards ceremony in Manchester in September.

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