‘Ill thought out’ bill needs stronger safeguards, minister told after meeting

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The government must introduce “stronger and more effective safeguards” to protect the rights of service-users who face having their freedom restricted by health and care providers, disabled campaigners have told a minister.

Inclusion London wrote to care minister Caroline Dinenage yesterday (Wednesday) about the government’s mental capacity (amendment) bill, which is currently awaiting its Commons report stage.

The letter followed a meeting between Dinenage and representatives of Inclusion London and People First (Self Advocacy) this week, and an open letter to Inclusion London published by the minister last week.

The two disabled people’s organisations have headed campaigning efforts aimed at persuading the government to rethink the “potentially dangerous” bill that is set to affect the lives and welfare of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.

The bill will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), which will replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) and will apply to service-users who are said to need to have restrictions placed on their liberty as part of their care but are considered to be unable to consent to those arrangements.

In her letter, Dinenage says she believes ministers have addressed Inclusion London’s concerns, by building in protections against conflicts of interest for those making decisions about a person’s deprivation of liberty; ensuring entitlement to independent advocacy; and making sure the necessary information is provided to those subject to the LPS process.

She says the government will also develop a wide-ranging code of practice to “bring the new system to life”, and she invites disabled people’s organisations and self-advocacy groups to work on the code of practice “to ensure that the Bill does promote and protect Disabled people’s liberty”.

But despite her letter and some government concessions in the last few weeks, Inclusion London said yesterday in its own letter to Dinenage that many of its key concerns remained.

Tracey Lazard (pictured), Inclusion London’s chief executive, says in the letter: “We recognise there is a need to reform the current DoLS system but this cannot be used to justify pushing through what we still believe is an ill thought out bill that weakens people’s rights and was developed with very little consultation – next to none with Disabled people.

“The bill is continuing its rapid passage through Parliament without pause, despite a very broad and strong consensus among professionals, advocates, Disabled people, lawyers and academics that there are serious flaws in the Bill and the proposed system that must be addressed.”

Lazard says in the letter that it is “utterly unacceptable” that “repeated requests for accessible information about the bill were ignored over the last six months”, leading to the conclusion that “people with learning difficulties have simply been disregarded as a valid stakeholder in this process”.

She says that the publication of an easy read summary of the bill on 31 January “can only be viewed as a tokenistic gesture given the very little time remaining to influence the bill and the lack of any detail in the document to enable people to have a meaningful say”.

Lazard’s letter includes some of the “stronger and more effective safeguards” that are needed to ensure the protection of people facing a deprivation of liberty.

They include the need to address conflicts of interest faced by independent hospitals and care home managers; to ensure access to advocacy and the right to accessible information; and to make sure that less restrictive living arrangements that could potentially be put in place are considered as part of the LPS process.

Nearly 200,000 people have now signed a petition drawn up by Inclusion London that calls for major changes to the bill.

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