The DoLS statistics for England for the year 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023 were published today (24 August 2023). They show that, despite heroic efforts by local authorities up and down the country, they continue to fight a losing battle actually to secure that all those requiring the safeguards are provided with them.
In headline terms:
- There were an estimated 300,765 applications for DoLS received during 2022-23. This is an increase of 11% compared to the previous year, which is closer to the rate of growth seen before COVID-19 (between 2014-15 and 2019-20 the average growth rate was 14% each year) following an interim period of relatively small increases in numbers of applications.
- The number of applications completed in 2022-23 was estimated to be 289,150. The number of completed applications has increased over the last five years by an average of 10% each year.
- However, the reported number of cases that were not completed as at year end was an estimated 126,100, 2% more than the end of the previous year, and the proportion of standard applications completed within the statutory timeframe of 21 days was 19% in 2022-23; this has fallen from 20% in the previous year. The average length of time for all completed applications was 156 days, compared to 153 days in the previous year.
Tellingly, 56% of applications were not granted, but only 3% were not granted because one or more of the DoLS criteria were not met. The reasons for most applications not being granted was due to a change in the person’s circumstances, for example being discharged from a short term stay in hospital following an urgent authorisation. And the stark fact is that almost 50,000 people died whilst waiting for a DoLS authorisation to be considered.
The DoLS statistics only tell part of the story, because the framework does not apply where the person is not yet 18, or is deprived of their liberty other than in a care home or hospital. There were 872 applications to the Court of Protection for judicial authorisation of deprivation of liberty in the first quarter of 2023 (down from 1,002 applications the quarter before), but it is very difficult to get a sense of by a factor of how many this number is short of the number of applications that should be made.
I have made some modest suggestions about how embattled public authorities can seek to respond to the situation in light of the indefinite delay to the LPS here and, in shameless plugs, will be doing a webinar for both Research in Practice and a masterclass for Healthcare Conferences UK about this issue.
More broadly, the Court of Protection is reviewing the Re X application procedure at the moment; I would also suggest that there is an urgent need to discuss whether and how it is possible to operate the DoLS framework in a more proportionate fashion – in line with the guidance from the Chief Social Worker for Adults and Principal Social Workers in relation to Care Act assessments. An extremely useful starting point for the discussion – in my view – is this guest post by Lorraine Currie.