An expert in human rights law has added her voice to growing concerns over the deprivation of liberty systems in care homes. The Guardian has reported that record numbers of care home residents are being deprived of their liberty following figures on applications under the deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS) legal framework.

The figures showed that in 2015/16 care homes in England made 195,840 applications to local councils to deprive a resident of their liberty. This was a 42% increase on the number of applications the previous year. Once the application is made the council has 21 days to make a decision, or seven days in urgent cases. The figures showed that 28,525 of processed applications were rejected as inappropriate in 2015/16. However, applications are usually only considered after a person’s freedom has already been taken away.

The depravation of liberty methods include being locked in a room, put in straps or given behaviour-controlling drugs.

Martina Kane, senior policy officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, told the Guardian: “The safeguards granted by deprivation of liberty safeguards are an essential part of protecting the right to liberty of people with dementia. It is disgraceful that nearly 30,000 people were wrongfully deprived of their liberty, and in over a quarter of cases practitioners are still locking people in, sedating them, restraining them or otherwise treating them as second-class citizens.

“Depriving someone of their liberty should always be a last resort and only ever done in someone’s best interests. It is crucial that the quality of care provided to people with dementia is improved to ensure that.”

Emma Jones, human rights lawyer at Leigh Day, said: “The deprivation of liberty safeguards are essential to ensure that when it is necessary and appropriate to deprive someone of their liberty there are proper checks on how this is done.

“In order for these safeguards to be effective in protecting vulnerable people it is crucial that they are used correctly. The significant rise in the number of application this year may indicate that this is not the case. They must never be used as a way to lock away troublesome patients or residents where other methods of care are available.

“Furthermore we are seeing a rise in the number of people contacting us about their loved ones being ‘locked up’ without the proper deprivation of liberty safeguards. Without the protection provided by the safeguards there are no checks in place to ensure the situation is reviewed and remains the most suitable course of action.”