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The Mental Capacity Act (2005) was designed to protect and empower patients with impaired capacity. Despite an estimated 40% of medical inpatients lacking capacity, it is unclear how many patients undergo capacity assessments and treatment under the Act. We audited the number of capacity assessments on the general medical wards of an English-teaching hospital. A total of 95 sets of case notes were reviewed: the mean age was 78.6 years, 57 were female. The most common presenting complaints were feeling ‘unwell’ (n = 25) and confusion (n = 24). In all, 52 patients had conditions, such as delirium (n = 26) and dementia (n = 15), which often impair capacity. Capacity was assessed in seven (7.4%) patients, all of whom disagreed with the medical team about their treatment. The number of documented assessments fell short of the estimated rate of incapacity, suggesting that some means of improving capacity assessment in busy medical environments is required. © 2013, SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Clinical Ethics

Publication Date





47 - 51