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Safeguarding Vulnerable People in Care: Who is Responsible?

By Principal Lawyer, Court of Protection

The recent case of a patient with dementia who died as a result of neglect by her carers raises the question: who is responsible and what is the local authority’s role?

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A woman with advanced dementia – and was unable to say she was hungry or thirsty – was admitted to hospital with severe dehydration after a week-long respite stay at Huntercombe Hall in Henley-on-Thames. She died a week after being discharged.

Further details of this case may be found here.

An investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman into the ’chaotic’ safeguarding procedures found significant failures on the part of local authorities.

These failures included the steps they and the care provider took to address concerns about the woman’s care – after she was admitted to hospital from her respite placement with severe dehydration – and decision-making on the part of the local authority which the Ombudsman considered “contradictory and somewhat chaotic”.

What Are The Duties of The Local Authorities?

The issues in the case arose before the introduction of the Care Act 2014. The Act does not impose a duty upon local authorities to protect the vulnerable from risk of abuse or neglect. However, the powers available to investigate concerns and provide safeguarding action plans and care services nonetheless enables local authorities repetition to protect vulnerable people, particularly with reference to their human rights, notably the right to respect for privacy and family life.

With awareness of the difficulties encountered by people with dementia and their carers increasing, it is important to press local authorities to make best use of the powers available to them under the Act and thus protect those at risk in any care setting.

For those vulnerable people who lack mental capacity to make decisions about where they live and what care and support they receive it is equally important to match care and support arrangements with risk and safeguarding assessments and clear decisions as to their best interests with reference to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Code of Practice which accompanies it.

Had Oxfordshire Council tackled the serious issues raised on behalf of the poor woman with dementia, with reference to her wellbeing and the urgent need to protect her, the case may not have reached the sad end it did.

For more information on care and support statutory guidance, see the Government’s website.

Richard Copson is a principal lawyer in Slater and Gordon’s court of protection team, specialising in mental capacity law, disability rights  and human rights law.

For a consultation with a human rights solicitor, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

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