By a best interests assessor
There is no doubt that the Supreme Court’s ‘Cheshire West’ ruling on deprivation of liberty promotes the civil liberties central to the values of social workers everywhere. The ruling itself, in my view, is a good thing. However, as is shown by the investigation published by Community Care today, the judgement has had a massive impact on the number of deprivation of liberty cases that teams are suddenly being expected to handle.
In recent weeks some views have been aired that suggest feckless local authorities have been ‘caught out’ by the ruling. People feel that councils should have been doing this work anyway and are simply moaning about being busy. While there is truth in the fact that councils have been ill equipped to cope with the rise in demand, we should not ignore the hidden impact and human cost that this dramatic increase in cases is having on some very dedicated, caring staff who are being stretched to the limit.
The fact is that, along with care home managers, the vast majority of this work is landing on a very small number of individuals – Mental Capacity Act or Dols coordinators and their administrators.
I used to be a MCA Dols coordinator. My partner and several respected colleagues still are. I know that the rise in workload post-Cheshire West and the mental stress they are under to hit stringent timescales has had a significant impact on their work-life balance and, in some cases, their own health. In the case of my partner, I have witnessed a truly wonderful woman worked to the brink of exhaustion. Some of my old colleagues feel similar.
My worry is that so much of this vital process rests on the energies of such a small number of people. It is not sustainable. The idea of Dols teams was a myth. Where teams do exist, they are often embryonic and the scale of paperwork involved is truly crippling. The impact on family life for coordinators and assessors has been enormous and relies heavily on support from their families and friends to be patient and supportive.
This could be worse too if local authorities hadn’t been able to alleviate at least some of pressure through the use of independent BIAs and mental health assessors. There may be talk that these assessors are profiteering from the ruling, but without this additional capacity the burden to comply with timescales felt by coordinators would be magnified and the concept of a legal safeguard would fall apart.
The real impact of the Supreme Court ruling, including the real positives it should bring for safeguarding human rights and the immense pressure it has brought for staff, needs to be truly understood and resourced by government and senior management. Lady Hale’s judgement in Cheshire West is not only necessary but valuable in protecting the rights of those most vulnerable. As I say, it promotes the civil liberties central to the values of social workers everywhere. But if something isn’t done to support Dols coordinators and their administrators then a vital system stands on the brink of collapse.