In March a Supreme Court ruling dramatically increased the number of people meeting the criteria to require assessment under the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (Dols). The judgement had many benefits in extending the safeguards to more people but it also has huge workforce implications for local authorities – not least the fact it has intensified a shortage of best interests assessors (BIAs).
So how can BIA numbers be boosted? One plan drawn up by the Department of Health is for the government to provide funding (albeit it a ‘small amount’ of funding) to BIA training providers to put on extra places on ‘condensed’ training courses over the next six months to a year.
An official document seen by Community Care shows that, under the plans, councils would still need to pay for their staff to do the training but places would be provided at a reduced rate. The cost, the document says, would effectively be “subsidised by the department”. The plans are being considered by a working group that was set up to consider the implications of the Supreme Court ruling.
Dols experts told me that the move would appeal to the DH as it would allow them to act on the Supreme Court ruling’s impact but, in providing money to BIA training providers rather than local authorities, would also avoid looking like the government was ‘bailing out’ councils. With the DH accountable for BIA training standards the department could say it was acting on its responsibilities by improving the accessibility of training.
People working in the field told me that the proposals are indicative of what they believe is a significant change in the tone of the DH’s handling of Dols in recent months. They believe that the government was initially sceptical of council predictions that the Supreme Court judgement would trigger a ten-fold increase in Dols and huge additional costs. Yet feedback from local authorities has indicated that the predictions have fast become reality and Dols teams have been overwhelmed by demand. There is a feeling in some quarters that the DH’s stance with councils has become more conciliatory and constructive (one source pointed me to the tone of this letter) and less combative in recent months.
Whatever happens with the training plan, it’s impact will ultimately play second fiddle to the resolution of the bigger question of whether local authorities will get any more central government funding to help with the increased workload brought by the ruling. Adass and the LGA have written to Jeremy Hunt warning that the ruling could cost an additional £88m, more than any ‘small amount’ of DH funding for training can offset alone.
Are you a BIA or social worker in adults services? How is your team impacted by the Dols ruling? Is the subsidised training proposal a good plan? Email us here.