By Sophie Borland
Thousands of restraining orders are being taken out on dementia patients and the alarming practice appears to be increasing, official figures have revealed.
Hospital and care home staff are routinely isolating frail, confused patients to prevent them wandering around and coming to harm.
This can include locking residents in their rooms overnight, sedating them or even tying them to chairs – all of which, critics said, denies them their basic human rights.
NHS figures show that last year 4,716 applications were made by staff to restrain a patient with dementia, of which 2,773 were approved – just over half.
Under a law introduced in 2009, staff who want to use some form of restraint to protect a patient coming to harm must get special approval – a Deprivation of Liberty Safeguard Order that lasts for a year. Hospitals must seek permission from the local Primary Care Trust and care homes from the council.
The 2,773 approved applications for dementia patients comprised around 56 per cent of the 4,951 ‘restraint’ orders granted last year in England and Wales.
The remainder were for people with mental illnesses or disabilities.
This total was higher than last year when 3,297 orders were granted. There were no separate figures last year for dementia patients.
Campaigners suspect the true number being restrained is far higher as many staff don’t realise the law requires them to get permission first.
Some areas of the country used powers of restraint far more widely than others. The highest figures were in the East Midlands where the rate was double the national average.
Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, said: ‘The regional variation in the number of Deprivation of Liberty cases is something that local authorities and NHS professionals alike need to consider carefully.
There is also concern that overworked staff in hospital and care homes are increasingly resorting to these severe measures as they are too busy to supervise patients all the time. Earlier this year a damning report by the Care Quality Commission warned that hospitals and care homes were routinely restraining patients without permission thereby breaking the law.
It included a harrowing account of how one elderly man with dementia was locked in his room at a care home every night for ten hours at a time.
Nursing staff did not check on him until morning and as he was so confused he would have struggled to use the alarm if he needed help.
The report also revealed how another resident was made to stay in his bed all day simply because care home staff were waiting for the delivery of a specialist chair.