NHS Digital has published national statistics for DoLS cases for the period April 2022 to March 2023. The report reveals that:
- There were an estimated 300,765 requests for authorisations during 2022-23, up 11% on the previous year
- There were 289,150 authorisations completed in 2022-23, while 126,100 remain uncompleted as of the end of the year
- Of all DoLS applications, 56% of applications were not granted, mostly due to either change of circumstances, misapplication (requiring a community DoLS or Inherent Jurisdiction) or not meeting the assessment criteria
- The statutory 21-day timeframe for authorisations was only met in 19% of cases
Reflections on the DoLS statistics
As expected, these figures continue to highlight the ongoing backlog of cases where individuals have no active DoLS authorisation in place, putting a vulnerable person at greater risk, while also breaching their Article 5 Rights.
These delays further impact on health and care organisations as they are put in a difficult situation where they have no authorisation in place to put proportionate best interest restrictions in place to support a vulnerable person in their care.
The backlog of cases is recognised to be partly due to staff shortages of appropriately qualified and skilled professionals, which councils are striving to address. In 2019, it was recognised that the DoLS process needed reform to make it simpler, more streamlined, and also to cover and protect individuals across a wider range of settings.
As a result, a new process known as the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS) was proposed. However, there remain ongoing delays and we still have no clear sign of when these court-directed reforms will come into force.
An issue of rights
Delays to DoLS authorisations and the implementation of the new LPS process mean that, many people are having their rights impacted, with no safeguards in place.
These concerns have prompted the Joint Committee on Human Rights and British Association of Social Workers, to raise direct concerns to the UK government. In reply, the Social Care Minister recognised the ongoing needs present for reform and improvement to safeguard and protect those under the Act.
However, at the time of writing there remains no update on the consultation that was completed in 2022; nor any sign of when progress may be made.
Further consequences to DoLS and LPS delays
All of these issues have been further compounded by the fact that many training providers, have stopped running Best Interest Assessor (BIA) courses while they wait for LPS to come into place. This in turn means that there is a shortage of accredited BIAs who are able to support DoLS Authorisations and clear the backlog.
As a result of these challenges, Social Work England has started its own consultation on proposed standards it will use to approve and monitor BIA courses.
This consultation is hopeful, but is not likely to make any significant impact in the short term, and its findings may not even come into force for some time. Whatever happens next, we can all agree that government action is desperately needed to address the DoLS delays and ensure the rights of vulnerable people are protected.