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Dementia: a life-sentence in more ways than one

A recent report by the Law Commission has highlighted how a Supreme Court decision on Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) has had a negative impact on people with dementia and learning difficulties.

The decision by the Supreme Court in 2014, has so greatly widened the definition of those who should be subject to DoLS checks, that tens of thousands of vulnerable people are now being detained unlawfully across the country.

To put this into context, there were 13,700 applications for deprivation of liberty in 2013-14. Since the judgement, this has jumped to 195,840 applications in 2015-16.

The applications are made by care homes or hospitals, in order to enforce movement controls on a person with a lack of mental capacity. These controls are usually put in place for their own safety, restricting a person’s ability to wander off and getting into danger, for example.

The safeguards are there to ensure that the application by the care home or hospital is sufficient and made only in the best interests of the patient, and as a last resort. The Mental Capacity Act states that these arrangements must be independently checked.

However, as a result of such a large spike in applications, concern has been growing over how many vulnerable people with dementia and learning difficulties have been denied their right to liberty, including in some instances where people living in their family home have been subject to keys being confiscated and alarms fitted to alert family members if their relative left the house.

This has caused administrative disasters as well, as local authorities struggle to carry out the necessary checks and fail to meet important deadlines. This is where the problem ultimately lies, as authorities struggle to review the applications, meaning that patients are unnecessarily deprived of their liberty in the meantime.

The Law Commission has recommended that the current system is scrapped and replaced ‘right away’, as it is now unable to cope with the huge increase in people that it needs to protect.

Nicholas Paines QC, a law commissioner involved in the report, said ‘It’s not right that people with dementia and learning disabilities are being denied their freedoms unlawfully. There are unnecessary costs and backlogs at every turn, and all too often family members are left without the support they need.” 

Melanie Lidstone-Land and the Clinical Negligence team at Swain & Co Solicitors regularly win compensation for their clients who have experienced substandard treatment or a failure to provide treatment. If you, a family member or a friend have experienced problems regarding substandard medical treatment contact our team today on 0292 483 322.

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