“Resource pressures” were behind the government’s decision to shelve the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), according to the care minister.
However, Helen Whately said the government remained committed to introducing the LPS to replace the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), in an appearance yesterday before Parliament’s health and social care select committee.
Whately’s appearance, alongside the Department of Health and Social Care’s top civil servant for the sector, Michelle Dyson, came a month after the DHSC announced it would delay LPS implementation beyond the next election, due in 2024.
The DHSC also revealed, at the time, it had disbanded the policy team working on the system and gave no commitment on whether or when it would implement the reform to the system for authorising deprivations of liberty in care settings for people unable to consent to them.
At the time of the announcement, the department justified the decision on the grounds of prioritising other adult social care policy initiatives.
‘Resource pressures’ the reason for delay
In evidence to the committee, Whately said the reform had been deprioritised on the grounds of the resource requirements of delivering it.
She said that there was “a lot of work to do to do the shift from DoLS to LPS so resource pressures were the reason behind delaying it”.
Dyson, director general for adult social care at the DHSC, said this was a “really, really complex reform”, both for the DHSC to implement and local authorities to implement.
Whately and Dyson were responding to committee member James Morris, a Tory MP and, briefly, a health minister last year, who questioned why reform had been delayed, four years on from the passage of the legislation enacting it.
He said the current DoLS backlog had left many vulnerable people in care settings without “the necessary protections” around the deprivation of their liberty, and that the LPS was meant to address deficiencies with the current system.
Government ‘still committed to LPS’
Morris added: “I’m just trying to shine a light on why this has been put back on the basis of it being too costly, given the current system looks as though it’s broken, and it was broken five years ago.”
In her evidence, Whately stressed that it was still the government’s intention to implement LPS, adding: “We completely accept the need to move to the Liberty Protection Safeguards.”
More on the decision to shelve LPS
Last year, the government consulted on a draft revised Mental Capacity Act 2005 code of practice and regulations on implementing LPS, and Dyson said it had received 750 responses, a summary of which it would publish shortly.
“When we do have the capacity to pick this up again, we’ll be in a very good place to do it having done this consultation process.”
The Conservative government will only be in a position to implement the reform should it win the next election, expected towards the end of next year. Labour is currently tipped to win, with a lead of about 15 percentage points on the Tories in latest polling.
The opposition voted against the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act 2019, the legislation enacting LPS, on the grounds that the new system would provide insufficient safeguards for the people it was designed to protect. It is not clear what Labour’s current position is on LPS or whether devoting the resources to implement it would be a priority, should it return to power next year.
Cap on care costs still in government plans
Whately also told the committee that the government remained committed to implementing its planned reforms to the adult social care charging system, including a more generous means-test and an £86,000 cap on people’s lifetime personal care costs.
These were due to come into force in October 2023, but last year the government delayed them to October 2025, in order to help councils manage existing social care pressures, including staff vacancies, long waiting lists, squeezed provider fees and high delayed discharge levels.
Though implementation would take place after the next election, Whately said the government would carry out work next year to prepare for the reforms.
“Work will be in progress, at the point of the next election, whenever that will be, to be ready for that October 2025 timeframe”, she added. “Local authorities will be motoring towards that. We are doing things at the moment to be ready for that.”
BASW fears over ‘dilution of social worker role’
As part of this, she referenced a £27m DHSC fund to help councils streamline assessment processes, in the context of the reforms requiring authorities to carry out thousands of more needs and financial assessments a year.
While many of the DHSC’s proposed uses for the funding involved using technology to improve processes, it also suggested making greater use of non-social work qualified staff to carry out assessments.
This prompted concerns from the British Association of Social Workers about the potential “dilution” of the social work role.