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Liberty-depriving applications reach highest level ever

Published 28/09/2016

A Supreme Court judgment fuelled a rise in liberty-restraining applications from places such as care homes
A Supreme Court judgment fuelled a rise in liberty-restraining applications from places such as care homes

Applications to deprive people of their liberty - through methods such as straps, restraints or behaviour-controlling medicines - are at their highest ever level.

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) applications in England reached 195,840 in 2015/16, the highest since they were introduced in 2009 and up on the 137,540 in 2014/15.

A Supreme Court judgment in March 2014, which introduced an "acid test" for depriving people of their liberty, has fuelled a rise in applications from places such as care homes.

Arrangements that would not previously have been considered to be a deprivation of liberty now require a formal DoLS assessment.

Once an application has been received, councils have 21 days to complete all assessments and reach a decision.

Those applications that need an urgent authorisation must be completed in seven days.

Overall, 76,530 (73%) of applications were granted, slightly down on the previous year, while 28,530 were rejected, the NHS Digital data showed.

DoLS applications are more likely to be in older age groups, with 44% for people aged 85 or over. Many of these older people suffer from dementia.

When a person is the subject of DoLS, measures can be used to control them, including the use of locks on doors and straps on chairs and wheelchairs.

The person can be made to stay somewhere against their wishes or the wishes of a family member, have regular sedation to control their behaviour or have objects or belongings removed for their safety.

The new data showed that the North East has the highest rate of applications completed, two and a half times the next highest region, the South West.

The South East had the lowest rate of completed applications per head of population.

Martina Kane, senior policy officer at Alzheimer's Society, said: "The safeguards granted by DoLS (Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards) are an essential part of protecting the right to liberty of people with dementia.

"It is disgraceful that nearly 30,000 people were wrongfully deprived of their liberty, and in over a quarter of cases practitioners are still locking people in, sedating them, restraining them or otherwise treating them as second class citizens.

"Depriving someone of their liberty should always be a last resort and only ever done in someone's best interests. It is crucial that the quality of care provided to people with dementia is improved to ensure that."

Izzi Seccombe, from the Local Government Association, said: "These alarming figures are further evidence of the significant added pressure facing local government as a result of increased DoLS assessments, which is estimated to be costing councils more than £170 million a year.

"Councils are doing everything they can to protect the rights of the most vulnerable people and will continue to prioritise those most in need.

"But the Government needs to fulfil its promise to overhaul the system as a matter of urgency and provide adequate funding so that councils have the time and money to do this properly.

"Failure to do this will have a damaging impact on crucial council services on which people rely and will lead to more vulnerable people left facing long waiting times for assessments."

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