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How far can a local authority go?

We all know that local authorities have to protect our vulnerable clients but how far does this actually go?

In the recent Court of Protection case of SR v A Local Authority & Anor [2018] EWCOP 36 (06 June 2018) a local authority took a case to the Court of Protection to restrict a husband's access from his wife because of their concerns about his opinions on euthanasia. She was 83, residing in a care home and living with late onset Alzheimers which was of a moderate to severe intensity. The couple had been married for over 50 years and family provided evidence to show they were a devoted couple who spent all their time together. The husband visited his wife twice a day in the care home spending more than three hours a day with her. Her family had objected to her move into a care home which was instigated by the local authority. Repeated requests to return her home had been ignored and and she frequently expressed her wish to be with her husband.

Over the course of a number of years through frustration and desperation her husband had expressed the wish to end both of their lives stating that we would put animals to sleep if they were in the situation his wife found herself in. There was no evidence put before the Court to indicate that he had ever or would ever harm his wife.

The local authority sought to prevent the husband from taking his wife out of the care home alone without another family member or member of staff from the care home. They also requested that he should not be allowed to take his wife out in a car on his own just in case she became agitated or her behaviour became challenging. It was clear that the local authority worried that her husband would harm her.

Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon and this is not the first time I have seen reports of cases like this. The increased stress that this situation causes to an already stressed family is enormous. The eroding of confidence to family members and the inferences that are made to the family in cases like these cause significant damage.

So, what was the outcome? The Court dismissed the application from the local authority on the grounds that it was neither justifiable, proportionate or necessary. What could have helped with avoiding this situation would have been a signed health and welfare power of attorney. The health and welfare power would have enabled the family to keep SR at home and provide care. Yes, of course, safeguarding concerns would have to be addressed but more power would have been retained by the family in respect of the decision making process. Of course, Courts have to hear cases like these as there would be uproar if something happened and no action had been taken. There really needs to be a way forward where the local authorities can work with families and understand the pressures they are under rather than simply looking and rules and regulations in isolation without truly understanding what is going on.

What our families need is support. If they had the support we may be able to avoid the desperate conversations where families no longer feel able to cope.

If you are struggling please telephone us for help and support because we can get things working again!

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