An important step to establishing a new human rights based framework for people with capacity issues in Ireland has taken place with the launch of a website for the Decision Support Service (DSS) at www.decisionsupportservice.ie on 10 August. The DSS is an essential service for all adults who have difficulties with decision-making capacity including people with an intellectual disability, mental illness, acquired brain injury and people with age-related conditions who may need support to make decisions.
The DSS was established by the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 in Ireland and although fully enacted, this act has not yet begun and cross-sectoral preparatory work is ongoing. The act abolishes the current wards of court system and replaces it with a modern, person-centred framework to maximise autonomy for people who need support to make decisions about their personal welfare, property and financial affairs.
It is a significant piece of reforming human rights legislation which provides a modern statutory framework for supported decision-making and reflects the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Estimates suggest there could be as many as 220 000 people living in Ireland who have capacity related difficulties who may become users of the DSS benefitting from these reforms.
It is also estimated one in 20 adults could have an active arrangement registered with the DSS and one in every two people will interact with the DSS in their lifetime. While the DSS itself will likely not be operational until at least 2022, the website provides up to date information to the public about ongoing implementation of the new service, while informing relevant bodies of steps to take to ensure they are ready for full commencement of the DSS and the act itself.
Áine Flynn, director of the DSS, says the launch of the website is a statutory requirement and a key milestone in the DSS establishment project and will go some way towards ensuring future users, families, stakeholders and other key bodies understand benefits the new service will deliver. She says it is expected the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act will effect enormous change in the lives of people with decision-making capacity difficulties. “It is important those people, their families and caregivers understand the act, role of the DSS and positive changes it will make to all their lives. The website has been designed to provide information in an accessible way and outlines in plain English arrangements that can be put in place once the act commences to support people where necessary to make decisions,” says the director.
Flynn says the website provides guidance for anyone who wants to plan in advance for a time when they might lose capacity to make a decision by putting in place an enduring power of attorney or an advance healthcare directive. She says it also provides information about the review of current wards of court who will transition out of wardship and into the new support framework in line with their individual needs.
“At any point in time, anyone of us could lose the capacity to make and communicate decisions for ourselves. Therefore, this is an Act for everyone. It has been acknowledged the full commencement of the act is essential for Ireland to become compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was ratified by the state in March 2018,” she says.
John Saunders, chair of the Mental Health Commission, an independent body regulating and inspecting mental health services in Ireland, under whose remit the DSS is being established, says the most pressing matter now is to ensure the commission is allocated adequate funding in the upcoming budget. He says this is critical so that this important human rights-based approach is brought to the people of Ireland as quickly as possible. “The act is long-awaited, reforming, human rights-based legislation, however it is now more than four-and-a-half years since the legislation was signed into law. It is critically important those who will be most affected by the act are provided with a clear roadmap for full commencement so we can all be assured and continue with getting the service ready for operation,” says the chairperson.