Urgent deprivation of liberty cases ‘not signed off for seven months’

Official figures reveal councils are getting through far more DoLS applications but still struggling with the impact of the 'Cheshire West' ruling

Councils are processing thousands more deprivation of liberty cases but huge backlogs means some urgent applications are not being signed off for seven months rather than the seven days required by law.

Figures released by NHS Digital reveal that care homes and hospitals in England made 195,840 Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) applications in 2015-16, up 30% on the 137,540 application the previous year and more than 14 times the 13,700 DoLS applications in 2013-14.

The number of applications completed rose by 68% from 62,645 in 2014-15 to 105,055 in 2015-16. However, some 42% of applications made in 2015-16 were not signed off by the end of the financial year. The average duration of applications not signed off was 205 days – almost seven months – for ‘urgent’ applications and 223 days for ‘standard’ cases.

The DoLS are used to authorise deprivations of liberty in care homes and hospitals. Councils are required by law to complete Dols applications within either seven days or 21 days of referral, depending on whether the care placement has started or not.

The figures showed that among the DoLs applications that had been signed off, only 29% were completed within the 21-day time limit, down from 56% the previous year.

The figures are the latest evidence of the immense pressure placed on local authority Dols teams by a March 2014 Supreme Court ruling in the cases of P v Cheshire West and Chester Council and P&Q v Surrey County Council (the “Cheshire West” case).

The judgment effectively lowered the threshold for what constituted a deprivation of liberty for people who lacked the capacity to consent to their care arrangements, requiring providers to make many more DoLs applications.

Of the 105,055 completed DoLS applications in 2015-16, 73% were granted – down from 82% the previous year. Approval rates varied by region, with fewer than half of applications (44%) granted in the south west compared to 86% in the north east or London.

The government has ordered the Law Commission to propose a replacement for the DoLS scheme, partly in response to the fallout from the Cheshire West ruling. The commission is due to present its final recommendations to ministers by the end of the year.

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