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The Local Government Ombudsman has said the county council can carry on with its current approach.

Prioritisation system continues to help vulnerable

Staffordshire County Council will continue prioritising assessments of the care of the most vulnerable people following an Ombudsman’s ruling.

Following a test court case, authorities have seen requests for Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) assessments soar, with Staffordshire seeing a rise of more than 1,000 per cent in a three-year period.

In line with other local authorities, in 2016 Staffordshire introduced a prioritisation system to ensure each case was assessed by a specialist and those most at risk were properly assisted.

In cases where people are assessed as lower risk, for example dementia patients, or those receiving end of life care in a hospice, no further action is taken.

Although there have been no complaints about the system, or lives put at risk, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has examined the council’s approach.

Whilst not criticising the local authority for the work that it had done in prioritising applications, now the Ombudsman has said that the council has acted unlawfully by not carrying out a full assessment for every case. The Ombudsman added that the council should prepare an action plan so that once the Mental Capacity Act is amended, probably in 2020, it can revise its prioritisation approach.

Alan White, Deputy Leader of Staffordshire County Council and Cabinet member for Health, Care and Wellbeing, said:

The test case put a huge additional burden on every council and we, like others, have prioritised DoLS applications to ensure those assessed as being at the highest risk are properly supported.

No-one has complained about the policy of prioritisation since its introduction, no individual has suffered injustice and no-one’s life or health has been put risk.

The Government and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services have backed a prioritising approach and it is generally accepted that the current DoLS legislation is no longer fit for purpose.

Despite the finding we are not being asked to change what we do on a day-to-day basis until it’s time to implement the amendments to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which will be next year at the earliest.”

He added:

Looking after the most vulnerable in our communities is a key concern and we will continue to focus upon it.

We will also be lobbying Government so that the changes envisaged for this complex area are supported by appropriate funding.”