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A report in the Independent (29 May 2015) has highlighted another by-product of the controversial Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) arrangements. This news report told how the funeral of Ann Hughes was due to take place on 9th June, more than two months after she died in a West London care home . The reason this has taken so long to arrange was nothing to do with the circumstances of her death. It was the consequence of law and guidance which required an inquest to be held before the funeral could take place.
Ginny Tyler highlighted the issue of inquests for people who had died whilst subject to DOLS arrangements in her blog And just when you thought you’d heard it all before Christmas. Well there’s more to hear about now as the report in the Independent describes some of the impact on families.
Just to explain the background to this storythe Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards is a process in law that can authorise the care arrangements for people who lack the mental capacity to decide where they should live, and restrictions on them in a care home, for example, mean they are being deprived of their liberty. The new rules about inquests comes as a result of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 which says if people who die in what is called ‘state detention’ there should then be an inquest, even if the person had died of entirely natural causes. The Chief Coroner’s view is that the DOLS arrangements are a form of state detention, because they have been authorised by officials of the state.
The recent story in the Independent report highlighted the case of Ann Hughes whose family ‘were left angry and distraught’ at having to wait for an inquest to take place. Ann’s family said they had no idea when the DOLS arrangements were put in place that this might be an issue. Ann’s niece said neither her GP, nor the undertaker, knew about this rule. Perhaps this rule needs to be reviewed by the Law Commission as they undertake their exercise to review the entire DOLS arrangements.
Meanwhile the rules are there, and care homes, GPs and others need to be aware. As part of the DOLS authorisation process, if families and friends were informed at the time about the requirement for Coroner’s investigations, it might limit the distress and anxiety that might follow later. You can find detailed reference to these rules in the QCS policy on the Deprivation of Liberty safeguards.