Ann Coffey MP has been successful in her long running campaign to scrap distressing rules that mean dementia sufferers who die in care homes are deemed to be “in state detention”.
Ms Coffey has been fighting in for a change of law in Parliament since families told her of the distress of having to wait to bury their loved ones because inquests are required into the deaths of dementia sufferers who die in care and are subject to a Deprivation of Liberty safeguard.
This meant that even if a person died of natural causes the police had to attend to sit with the body until an ambulance arrived and relatives must then visit a mortuary to identify the body again. Then an inquest had to take place.
Ms Coffey argued that this caused unnecessary anguish to families, delays in funerals and was costing the taxpayer millions.
She lobbied ministers and the Chief Coroner and introduced a Private Members Bill in November last year and she also tabled an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill this year.
Now last night the Government supported the amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill in the House of Lords which means that a person who dies while subject to a Deprivation of Liberty order in hospital or care shall not be considered to have died in in custody or state detention.
Ms Coffey said today: “I am absolutely delighted with this change of heart on state detention and inquests. Something had to be done to stop this profound distress to relatives. When loved ones die in care, relatives should not have their grief exacerbated by this sledgehammer approach.
“However the system of DoLs itself remains an expensive bureaucratic nightmare that is diverting resources from front line care at a time when there are huge demands on the social care budget.”
The amendment was raised in the Lords by the crossbench peer Baroness Finlay of Llandoff, who is the independent chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. The minister, Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen, said: “The Government are pleased to be able to offer our support for this amendment, which will minimise the stress on bereaved families at a very difficult time for them. The amendment will fully address the concerns that no family, having watched and comforted their loved one through his or her final days, should then be unnecessarily subject to the anxiety and confusion of having their death investigated by a coroner. “
There has been a tenfold increase in applications for DoLS after a supreme court ruling in 2014 that effectively lowered the threshold for what constitutes deprivation of liberty in care. The problem was made worse by guidance issued by the Chief Coroner to local coroners following the Supreme Court judgement .
Stockport Council alone was expecting to spend around £1.2 million this year on DoLS assessments and has hired six new social workers, a co-ordinator, an outside agency and a part time solicitor. Local GPs have also told Ms Coffey that they are becoming overwhelmed.
Councils were inundated with DoLS applications from care homes after a Supreme Court ruling last year, which effectively lowered the threshold for what constitutes deprivation of liberty in care. The problem was made worse by guidance issued by the Chief Coroner to local coroners’ following the Supreme Court judgement. The Chief Coroner said then that all persons who die subject to a DoLS order must be the subject of a coroner investigation, whether the death was from natural causes or not. For the purposes of the 2009 Coroners’ & Justice Act they are deemed to be in “state detention.”
The Lords amendment:
Coroners’ investigations into deaths: meaning of “state detention”
(1) Section 48 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (interpretation of Part 1:
general) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), in the definition of “state detention”, after “subsection (2)”
insert “(read with subsection (2A))”.
(3) In subsection (2), at the beginning insert “Subject to subsection (2A),”.
(4) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) But a person is not in state detention at any time when he or she is
deprived of liberty under section 4A(3) or (5) or 4B of the Mental
Capacity Act 2005.””
It can be found at p.13 of the marshalled list: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2016-2017/0055/17055-V.pdf