The Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of 75 organisations including clinicians, lawyers and patient user groups, has now published the first review following the introduction of the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) in April 2009 under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

The review expresses concern that these important safeguards are not being properly implemented. Applications for authorisations have totalled only one third of the rate originally predicted by the Government when DOLS were introduced. There are also some large disparities in use between different local authorities and primary care trusts.

The review concludes that there is widespread misunderstanding and confusion regarding the legislation that has led to the safeguards being introduced, prompting concerns for the human rights of individuals confined in hospitals and care homes.

This confusion is felt to be partly due to the absence of a specific legal definition of what constitutes a “deprivation of liberty”. At present practitioners must refer to previous case law, much of which is referred to in the DOLS code of practice, in order to make their decisions as to whether the evidence suggests a deprivation or merely a restriction of liberty. Only if it is concluded that a person is deprived of their liberty must an authorisation be sought.

The Mental Health Alliance is calling for an urgent investigation into why so few applications for authorisation have been made, updated guidance on DOLS which is more accessible to staff and refresher training.

If you have any concerns regarding the legal issues surrounding DOLS or require any training for your organisation then please do not hesitate to contact us.