HUNDREDS of vulnerable residents in Bournemouth and Poole have been left in limbo for more than six months while carers applied to strip them of their freedom.

The mental health charity Mind says the lack of legal safeguards for people subject to deprivation of liberty applications constitutes a “disgraceful breach of human rights”.

Hospitals and care homes can apply to councils for permission to restrict the freedom of anyone deemed to lack the mental capacity to make decisions about their care, such as those with dementia or mental health problems.

There is currently a legal maximum time limit of 21 days for applications to be processed – but experts say insufficient funding combined with huge demand has left councils across England struggling to cope.

The latest figures released by NHS Digital show many residents have been waiting months for a decision to be made.

At the end of March 2019, before the Dorset councils merger, the statistics were:

  • Bournemouth Borough Council: A total of 705 applications outstanding. 480 of these people had been in the system for six months, with 390 of these cases waiting for more than a year
  • Borough of Poole: A total of 330 applications outstanding. 130 of these people had been in the system for six months, with 65 of these cases waiting for more than a year

Once an application has been approved, the person subject to it is granted legal protections, including the right to appeal the decision and have the restrictions imposed on them regularly reviewed. But concerns have been raised that people with live applications are being denied these protections – and in some cases may be facing restrictions which will be considered unnecessary.

Alison Cobb, specialist policy advisor at Mind, said: “It is a disgraceful breach of human rights that people are having their freedom taken away without legal safeguards while they wait a year or longer for their application to be processed.

“This can mean that they have to endure unnecessary delays to being placed in the best care setting for them, which would help to protect them from harm.”

In Bournemouth, 74 per cent of all the applications completed in 2018-19 resulted in the deprivation of liberty being refused. Only 26 per cent of applications were completed within the statutory 21 days.

However, in Poole, only 20 per cent were refused and 45 per cent were dealt with in the statutory time.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring people who lack capacity and may be at risk of being unlawfully deprived of their liberty are cared for safely and compassionately, which is why we are reforming the current system by introducing Liberty Protection Safeguards.

“Liberty Protection Safeguards will improve protections for these groups, while providing regular reviews of their care and bolster the right to independent advocacy.”

Sarah Webb, BCP Council head of statutory services for adult social care, said: “Since 2014, BCP Council, and its predecessor councils, have adhered to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services Guidance, which emphasises the need to regularly review the cases held and to prioritise them according to clear criteria. This criteria advises that we should prioritise seeing people who are objecting to their care arrangements or where there is some kind of disagreement about the arrangements.

“The Mental Capacity Act has recently been reviewed by government and changes to the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) are likely to come in to affect within the next eighteen months.” The review acknowledged that the current DoLS system is overly burdensome on Councils and is far too bureaucratic.

“This new framework will be known as the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS). It is anticipated that the changes LPS will bring will help Councils to administer the Safeguards in a less bureaucratic way, whilst keeping the best interests of the individual at the heart of our work. This should also mean that backlogs are far less likely to exist.”