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Government urges social workers to reassess cases for deprivations of liberty following Supreme Court ruling

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Department of Health issues advice note to councils and providers following ruling that heralds sharp rise in Dols cases

by Mithran Samuel on March 30, 2014 in Adults, Legal, Mental Capacity Act
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Credit: Rex/Cultura

Social care professionals should reassess the cases of people who lack capacity to decide on their care to determine whether they are being deprived of their liberty, in the light of a landmark Supreme Court ruling.

Councils should also assess whether they are spending enough on the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (Dols) in the light of the case, which heralds a sharp rise in Dols cases.

That was the message from the Department of Health in an advice note for councils and providers issued in response to the judgement in the P v Cheshire West and Chester Council and P&Q v Surrey County Council cases earlier this month.

The ruling by the UK’s highest court set a revised test for determining a deprivation of liberty that is far broader than those set by previous judgements, meaning many more vulnerable adults are being detained in care settings than was previously thought.

Under the test, people who are under continuous supervision and control in care arrangements that are the responsibility of the state, that they lack the capacity to consent to and that they are not free to leave, are deprived of their liberty. Previous rulings had said that other factors – including the purpose of the placement or whether the person was objecting to it – were relevant, but these have now been thrown out.

The DH advice note said relevant staff in councils and care providers should “take steps to review existing care and treatment plans for individuals lacking capacity to determine if there is a deprivation of liberty” in the light of the ruling.

Where people are deprived of their liberty – and this is judged to be in their best interests – this must be authorised, said the DH.

In care home or hospital placements, providers must apply to their local authority for authorisation under the Dols; in supported living or other domestic arrangements, providers or the relevant council should apply to the Court of Protection for authorisation.

The DH also said councils should review the amount of money they are spending on Dols in the light of the Supreme Court judgement “to ensure they meet their legal responsibilities”.

The department also said councils could consider examining whether they needed more best interests assessors (BIAs), whose role is to assess whether a person is being deprived of their liberty and, if so, whether this is in their best interests.

However, the note added: “It is difficult to predict the number of individual who lack capacity whose arrangements should be assessed in light of the Supreme Court judgement and the number of additional individuals for whom deprivation of liberty will need to be authorised”.

The DH said it would do further work with the Care Quality Commission to assess the practical impact of the Supreme Court judgement.

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