Section 47 : The compulsory removal of old people from their homes

Gray, John Armstrong Muir (1980) Section 47 : The compulsory removal of old people from their homes. MD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The objective of the research presented in the thesis was to review the use of the powers of compulsory removal contained in Section 47 of the National Assistance Act of 1948. These powers do not require the person to be mentally ill, as the Mental Health Act does. All that is required is that he or she is either suffering from "grave chronic disease" or is "aged, infirm, or physically incapacitated", and that they are living in insanitary conditions. Such persons can be removed by a community physician acting for the local authority if "they are not devoting to themselves or receiving from other persons proper care and attention" provided that he applies to a magistrate or a court. The Department of Health no longer collects information about the use of Section 47 so it was necessary to write to all the responsible community physicians in England. From the 90 per cent response, the frequency of use of these powers was calculated. In most cases elderly people in crisis were removed. Most of them went to hospitals rather than to old people's homes. There is a considerable variation in the frequency with which the powers are used and 25 per cent of the community physicians did not use them at all during the four years under consideration, which were 1974-78. The possible reasons for this are analysed and the effects of compulsory removal on the elderly people are discussed. Two disturbing themes emerged from the research. First, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the powers are not used often enough; that many elderly people are coerced, deceived, or "persuaded" from their homes without Section 47 powers of compulsory removal being invoked. There are many admissions which can in no way be considered to be voluntary admissions although they are not covered by Mental Health Act or Section 47 orders. The implications for professional training and practice are outlined and the need for greater legal protection for elderly people is considered. The second disturbing theme is that the manner in which the Act has been drafted and is currently interpreted defines the "need" only in terms of personal incapacity. Criteria are laid down with respect to the degree of the person's disability but nothing is said about the degree of community support he should be entitled to expect before he is deemed to need institutional care. Where the need is for treatment which can only be obtained in hospital, for example operative repair of a fractured neck of femur, such definition is unnecessary. However, where the person's requirement is for more care of the type he could receive in his own home if more resources were available, such a definition of "need" evades the basic issue of resource shortage. The implications of this particular definition of need for professionals who meet elderly people and for those who plan services are discussed, using examples from other areas of health care, for example, renal transplantation. The research summarised in the thesis had two broad aims. One was to determine whether the law was still relevant or whether it should be repealed and the conclusion reached is that it should not be repealed. It is argued that the existence of these powers of compulsory removal is, paradoxically, a means of safeguarding liberty, although their use does infringe the liberty of those individuals who are compulsorily removed. If it were repealed those who would at present be removed using Section 47 would not all be left in liberty at home; many would be coerced, persuaded, drugged, or deceived into an institution without any legal control over the professionals and without any means of appeal. The second of these more general aims was to analyse paternalistic attitudes towards old people. This relates closely to the former am because the law, as a whole, is more than a collection of legal instruments. It is an expression of certain attitudes and values and a reflection of certain beliefs, and the function of a law is as important as the manner in which it is used. The methods used in studying this aspect of the subject were drawn from the closely related methodologies of history and anthropology. It is this aspect of the thesis which is, in my opinion, the most significant for the practice of medicine and other professions because it is an appreciation of the attitudes towards old people which prevail in society which is of fundamental importance in understanding public pressure on professionals and the manner in which professionals themselves analyse, classify and attempt to solve the problems of elderly people.

Item Type: Thesis (MD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Alex Gatherer
Keywords: Public policy, Public administration, Gerontology
Date of Award: 1980
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1980-72040
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2019 13:16
Last Modified: 17 May 2019 13:16
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/72040

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