Assessment orders

Assessment orders

If a doctor or mental health practitioner examines a person (under section 30 of the Mental Health Act 2014) and determines that all four assessment criteria are met, then they may make an assessment order (s. 28).

The purpose of an assessment order is to enable an authorised psychiatrist to compulsorily examine the person to see if they have a mental illness and meet the criteria for compulsory treatment.

Court assessment orders under Part 5 of the Sentencing Act 1991 have a similar purpose (see also Part 4, Div 2 of the Act, ss. 39–44).

A mental health practitioner means (s. 3) a person who is employed or engaged by a designated mental health service (public mental health service or hospital) and is a:

  1. registered psychologist; or
  2. registered nurse; or
  3. social worker; or
  4. registered occupational therapist.

Assessment criteria

Section 29 sets out the criteria for the making of an assessment order, which are that:

  1. the person appears to have mental illness, and
  2. because the person appears to have mental illness, they appear to need immediate treatment to prevent:
    1. serious deterioration in their mental or physical health, or
    2. serious harm to themselves or another person, and
  3. if an assessment order is made, then they can be assessed, and
  4. there is no less restrictive means reasonably available to enable the person to be assessed.

In deciding whether the assessment criteria apply, the doctor or mental health practitioner may consider other information provided by a third party.

Before making the order, the doctor or mental health practitioner must explain to the person being assessed that they will be examined and the purpose of that examination (to the extent that is reasonable in the circumstances) (s. 30).

They must also give the person a statement of rights once the order is made.

Practice tip

At this stage of the process, it is not necessary for the doctor or mental health practitioner to find definitively that the person has a mental illness or does need treatment; it is enough to find they appear to.

Community and inpatient assessment orders – effect and duration

If a community assessment order is made, the person can be compulsorily examined in the community. Such an order lasts for up to 24 hours.

However, if the doctor or mental health practitioner is satisfied the person cannot be assessed in the community, they may instead make an inpatient assessment order which enables the person to be taken to and detained in a designated mental health service, such as the psychiatric unit of a public hospital, in order to be examined.

The doctor or mental health practitioner also has the power to vary a community assessment order to an inpatient assessment order (and vice versa).

Once on an inpatient assessment order, a person must be taken to a designated mental health service within 72 hours. The order expires 24 hours after they are received at the service. However, if they are not received at a service in that time, the order expires after the initial 72 hour period.

Before an assessment order expires, the person must be examined by an authorised psychiatrist to determine whether the treatment criteria are met, and whether to make a temporary treatment order. That authorised psychiatrist must be a different person to the person who made the assessment order (s. 47).

If the authorised psychiatrist, after examining the person, is unable to make this determination, then they may extend the assessment order up to two times (on each occasion for a maximum of 24 hours) (ss. 28–37).

Treatment on an assessment order

A person cannot be given mental health treatment while on an assessment order unless (under s. 38(2)):

  1. they give informed consent (see s. 69), or
  2. a registered medical practitioner employed by the mental health service is satisfied that urgent compulsory treatment is necessary to prevent serious deterioration in their mental or physical health or serious harm to themselves or another person.

Practice tips

  • The type of treatment a person can be forcibly given on an assessment order is significantly limited by section 38(2).
  • If a person is concerned about being given treatment they don’t agree with, they can make a complaint to the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner.

Challenging an assessment order

A person cannot challenge or appeal against their assessment order at the Mental Health Tribunal, however they can make a complaint to the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner.

General practice tips for assessment orders

  • An assessment order is the start of the process for compulsory mental health treatment. It is only a short-term order, designed to allow a person to be assessed by an authorised psychiatrist to see if they meet the criteria for compulsory treatment.
  • Check the time limits carefully. If an assessment order expires before a temporary treatment order is made, the person cannot be given compulsory treatment. A new assessment order would have to be made to restart the process.
  • Voluntary assessment and treatment is preferred. However if an assessment order is made, a community assessment order rather than an inpatient assessment order should be made wherever possible, consistent with s. 11(1)(a) and (d).
  • An assessment order cannot be challenged at the Mental Health Tribunal. If your client is concerned about an assessment order or the compulsory treatment they have been given whilst on the order, they can make a complaint to the mental health service or the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner.

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