Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards

The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) provide legal protection for vulnerable people in hospital or a care home, who may need to be deprived of their liberty to protect them from serious harm.

What is deprivation of liberty?

People who lack the capacity to make their own decisions about their care or treatment need more protection than others, to ensure that they do not suffer harm. In some cases, this may mean restricting their freedom.

For example, it might be necessary to stop a person from leaving the hospital or care home, or staff might have to make most of the choices for a person inside the care home. If there are a lot of restrictions like this, it may be that the person is being deprived of their liberty.

Hospitals and care homes should always try to avoid this, but sometimes there is no alternative to deprive a person of their liberty because it is in their best interests.

What are the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards?

The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards apply to anyone who: 

  • is aged 18 or over 
  • is in a residential or nursing home, or is an in-patient at a hospital (NHS or private) 
  • suffers from a mental disorder or disability of the mind – e.g. dementia, or a profound learning disability 
  • lacks the capacity to consent to the arrangements made for their care or treatment

The safeguards do not apply to people detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

If there is no alternative but to deprive a person of their liberty, the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards say that a hospital or care home must apply to the council (for care homes) or to the Primary Care Trust (for hospitals) for authorisation. The council or Primary Care Trust are known as the Supervisory Body.

If the Supervisory Body authorises a deprivation of liberty, this will be for a limited time (up to a maximum of 12 months) and the Supervisory Body will put conditions in place to ensure the person’s welfare.

Of course, sometimes a person’s family or friends might not agree with an authorization. The Safeguards also allow people the right of appeal against a decision in a court of law.