English councils received 300,765 Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) applications in 2022-23 – a new record – following an 11% hike in case numbers, reveal official figures.
Practitioners completed a record 289,150 applications, up 14% on the year before, meaning that growth in the number of concluded cases has averaged 10% over the past five years.
However, the backlog of cases left incomplete at the end of the reporting year grew by 2% from 2021-22, to 126,000, while the proportion of standard DoLS applications completed within the 21-day statutory timescale dropped from 20% to 19% year on year.
The average duration of completed application rose from 153 to 156 days, from 2021-22 to 2022-23.
Liberty Protection Safeguards shelved
The NHS Digital release is the first annual dataset issued since the government shelved its plans to replace DoLS with the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), a system designed to be less burdensome for practitioners.
While ministers are formally committed to the reform, and cited resource pressures for their decision to postpone it beyond the next election, due in 2024, it will be up to the next government to decide whether to proceed.
As a result, DoLS will remain, for the foreseeable future, the system for authorising the deprivation of liberty, in care homes or hospitals, of adults who lack capacity to consent to such arrangements and for whom they are in their best interests and necessary to protect them from harm.
Arrangements outside these settings, and for 16- and 17-year-olds, must be authorised via Court of Protection orders.
Increasing proportion of DoLS applications not granted
The latest data also showed an ongoing shift towards applications from hospitals and care homes not being granted by councils, with the proportion of these rising from 39% in 2017-18 to 56% in 2022-23.
However, reflecting the increasing duration of cases, most of these were not granted because of a change in the person’s circumstances, for example, them being discharged from a short stay in hospital.
Just 3% of applications that were not granted were rejected on the grounds of the DoLS assessment criteria not being met.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said the figures showed the “huge pressures local authorities are under to safeguard people’s rights and to ensure that people are not deprived of their liberty unless it is absolutely necessary – and then in the least restrictive way possible”.
Reform DoLS, ADASS urges government
Joint chief executive Cathie Williams said the the increasing number of completed assessments highlighted the “heroic efforts” of DoLS leads, best interests assessors and other staff “to deal with the challenges the current system makes.
She added: “Given the government’s decision to not go forward with the proposed Liberty Protection Safeguards system within this parliament, we ask that they nonetheless work with us to streamline the requirements of the current process. The focus has to be on ensuring that resources can be focused on people the system was intended to protect.
“Making small but significant changes to the regulations and law could significantly reduce bureaucracy and waiting lists – aspirations close, we are sure, to those in government.”