The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has recently found that over 1,000 people have been unlawfully deprived of liberty due to DoLS application delays by Cheshire East Council. One case in particular was delayed by more than six years.
These delays in assessing and implementing DoLS mean that each individual who meets the criteria for application through the Acid Test and subsequent steps, were detained unlawfully under Article 5 of Human Rights. Those detained had no safeguards to ensure least restrictive proportionate care with a relevant person assigned to support their voice; nor did those supporting their care have any legal protection to implement the individual’s care plans, including locking the doors of their premises.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not limited to Cheshire East. Indeed, in 2020, the CQC raised concerns regarding an even greater backlog to be expected in the aftermath of Covid.
Though I do recognise that many DoLs authorisations do progress forward smoothly. In my experience working on hospital wards particularly, the delays in DoLS authorisations has been an ongoing situation, to one degree or another, for some time now and continues to be a challenge in particular areas.
While the Cheshire East case will be shocking to many readers, it is, unfortunately, nothing new. Indeed, it raises questions around why delays should be occurring at all, considering the known needs. Is it lack of funding to provide Best Interest Assessors and other necessary professionals? Available training? Effective recruitment? Or are DoLS authorisations simply taking lower priority for Councils working under limited budgets.
With the new Liberty Protection Safeguards looming on the horizon, it is absolutely essential that these needs are addressed in order to protect people’s rights and ensure they have their voices heard. If there are such significant delays with the relatively well-understood DoLS process, then LPS risks even longer delays if local authorities are already falling behind in their duty of care. Equally the LPS, may help to overcome these delays in the long run through longer authorisations for those who are not actively objecting and have previous authorisations in place.