Rules to protect the welfare of dementia patients in care are not being applied properly, MPs have warned.
The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) are being ignored because of confusion or complacency and are leaving patients open to abuse, according to the Commons Health Committee.
DoLS are designed to ensure that vulnerable people in care are looked after respectfully so that their freedom is not restricted inappropriately.
The intention is that a person can only be deprived of their liberty in a safe manner by a care home or hospital and only when there is no other way they can be looked after.
Care homes are required to follow a strict process if an individual's liberty is to be restricted.
This process includes providing the person with a representative and giving them or their representative the right to challenge the order through the Court of Protection and to conduct a regular review.
However, the Commons Health Committee has reported that the rules are applied to variable standards 'and, on many occasions, those responsible for ensuring patients are protected by them have failed to do so'.
The MPs found there is 'considerable confusion' over how and when to apply the rules.
'The evidence the committee heard regarding the application of DoLS revealed a profoundly depressing and complacent approach to the matter,' they continued.
'We are concerned that some of the most vulnerable members of society may be exposed to abuse because the legislation has failed to implement controls to properly protect them.'
Urgent review needed
The committee has called for an urgent review of the situation and it has also warned that pressure to cut costs may be contributing to the problem, with the need to free up hospital beds encouraging greater use of community treatment orders.
'Financial pressures should never distort clinical judgments, but the absence of clear guidelines for clinicians makes this all the more likely,' Stephen Dorrell warned.
Louise Lakey, policy manager at the Alzheimer's Society, said it is 'essential' care providers respect the human rights of people with dementia and other vulnerable individuals.
'The regional variation in how Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards are being used and the fact that in some instances they are being ignored is very worrying,' she added.
A Department of Health spokesman commented: 'Making sure people with mental health problems get the right assessment, care and treatment they need as quickly as possible is vital and the local NHS must ensure acute beds and appropriate services are there for patients who need them.'
Copyright Press Association 2013