Assessment Orders under the Mental Health Act 2013

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Tasmania’s Mental Health Act 2013 establishes a substitute decision making framework for people with mental illness who, because of their illness, cannot make their own assessment and treatment decisions but who need treatment to prevent harm to their own health or safety, or to the safety of others.

The Act provides for Assessment Orders and Treatment Orders and establishes the statutory offices of Chief Civil Psychiatrist and Chief Forensic Psychiatrist. The Act also provides for an independent Mental Health Tribunal and for the appointment of Official Visitors.

What is an Assessment Order?

An Assessment Order is a short term Order enabling a person to be assessed, without the person’s informed consent, by an approved medical practitioner (generally, a psychiatrist) to diagnose the condition of a person’s mental health and, where necessary, to identify the most appropriate treatment.

An Assessment Order may:

  • Require a person to be assessed at a particular place, such as a hospital or community mental health premises
  • Require the person who is being assessed to be detained in an approved facility for a short period of time, so that the assessment can occur
  • Specify or provide for other matters, incidental to the person’s assessment, that the medical practitioner making the Order considers necessary or desirable in the circumstances.

An Assessment Order cannot, however, authorise a person’s treatment.

How are Assessment Orders made?

Assessment Orders are made by medical practitioners.

An Assessment Order may be made by any medical practitioner who is in receipt of an application. The medical practitioner must also have examined the patient and be satisfied from that examination that the person needs to be assessed against the assessment criteria, and that a reasonable attempt to have the person assessed with informed consent has failed or would be futile or inappropriate.

An Assessment Order may be applied for by a medical practitioner, nurse, police officer, ambulance officer, Mental Health Officer or guardian or support person of the person that the Order is being sought for. The applicant must be satisfied that the person has or might have a mental illness, and that a reasonable attempt to have the person assessed with informed consent has failed or would be futile or inappropriate.

What are the assessment criteria?

The assessment criteria are:

  • The person has, or appears to have, a mental illness that requires or is likely to require treatment for the person’s health or safety or the safety of others, and
  • The person cannot be properly assessed with regard to the mental illness or the making of a Treatment Order except under the authority of the Assessment Order, and
  • The person does not have decision making capacity.

How are Assessment Orders affirmed?

An Assessment Order may be affirmed by an approved medical practitioner (generally, a psychiatrist) who has independently assessed the person while the Order is in place.

The approved medical practitioner who affirms the Order must not be the same person as the person who applied for the Order or the medical practitioner who made the Order.

The approved medical practitioner may only affirm the Assessment Order if he or she is satisfied that the person meets the assessment criteria.

At the same time as affirming an Assessment Order the approved medical practitioner may decide to extend the Order’s operation for up to an additional 72 hours.

How long do Assessment Orders last for?

Once made by a medical practitioner, an Assessment Order lasts for up to 24 hours.

An Assessment Order that has been affirmed and extended in operation lasts until the end of the period for which the Order has been extended.

The maximum time for which an Assessment Order can stay in place is 96 hours.

How are Assessment Orders discharged?

An Assessment Order may be discharged at any time while the Order is in effect by:

  • The medical practitioner who made the Order
  • Any approved medical practitioner (including the approved medical practitioner who has independently assessed the person)
  • The Mental Health Tribunal.

An Assessment Order may be discharged for any reason, including if a medical practitioner is satisfied that the person does not meet the assessment criteria.

In the case of the Mental Health Tribunal an Assessment Order may be discharged if the Tribunal makes a Treatment Order for the person or following a review of the Assessment Order.

Medical practitioner obligations

A medical practitioner who makes an Assessment Order is required to give a copy of the Order, and a Statement of Rights, to the patient.

The medical practitioner is also required to give a copy of the Order to the approved medical practitioner who is likely to independently assess the patient and, if relevant, to the controlling authority of the hospital in which the patient is going to be assessed, and to place a copy of the Order on the patient’s clinical record.

An approved medical practitioner who affirms an Assessment Order is required to notify the patient, the medical practitioner who made the Order, the Chief Civil Psychiatrist, the Mental Health Tribunal, and, if relevant, the controlling authority of the hospital in which the patient is going to be assessed. The approved medical practitioner is also required to place a copy of relevant documentation on the patient’s clinical record.

A medical practitioner or approved medical practitioner who discharges an Assessment Order is required to give a copy of relevant documentation to the patient, the Chief Civil Psychiatrist, the Mental Health Tribunal, and, if relevant, the approved medical practitioner who was going to independently assess the patient or the controlling authority of the hospital in which the patient was going to be assessed. The medical practitioner or approved medical practitioner is also required to place a copy of relevant documentation on the patient’s clinical record.

Patient rights

A person who is placed on an Assessment Order has the right to:

  • Be provided with a copy of the Order, notice that the Order has been affirmed or discharged (if the Order is affirmed or discharged), and a Statement of Rights
  • Be given information in a language and form that the person can understand
  • Make a complaint to an Official Visitor
  • Ask the Chief Civil Psychiatrist to exercise his or her power of direct intervention
  • Ask the Mental Health Tribunal to review the making of the Order

A copy of the Statement of Rights for Involuntary Patients can be found here