A LOCAL authority has signalled its determination to fully reintroduce the most robust process to protect some of society’s most vulnerable people as soon as possible.

A meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s adults scrutiny committee heard as the area was covered by Tier 2 Covid-19 restrictions practitioners were only allowed to carry out face-to-face assessments on those who cannot consent to their care in a care home or hospital “in exceptional circumstances”.

The so-called Deprivation of Liberty (DoLS) Safeguards assessments are seen as crucial in ensuring arrangements which keep people in a care home or hospital setting are necessary and in the person’s best interests. The meeting heard the North-East region has consistently received and approved the country’s highest level of DoLS requests, indicating that the protections are viewed as particularly important in the region.

However, in April the government advised that assessors should not visit care homes or hospitals unless it was essential, with remote methods, such as telephone or video-based assessments and reliance on previous assessments, used as far as possible.

The meeting was told the authority had resumed face-to-face visits in August, with the government stating they should be carried out when needed to meet people’s communication needs, in cases of urgency or where there are human rights concerns.

However, when the borough became a Tier 2 area, the government had stated assessors should only use remote techniques to communicate with the vulnerable person in the care home or hospital.

Officers said there was “no doubt that the impact of non face-to-face visits is going to have a real impact”.

One officer stated: “We all feel very strongly in times of people’s human rights having that face-to-face visit is really important and something that we will keep a very close eye on as we move through the winter. We all want to get back to face-to-face assessments as quickly as possible, but it has to be done in the context of the current infection.”

The meeting was told since the end of September in the borough 82 people in care homes and people receiving care in their own homes as well as 75 staff members had tested positive for the virus. However, the meeting heard many of the cases had been without symptoms so the impact had not been felt as hard as outbreaks earlier this year.