09 December 2010

Stephen Neary, political correctness and petitions

The story
Stephen (or Steven) Neary is a 20 year old autistic young man. Last year he went into respite care for a few days while his father was unwell. His behaviour while in respite led the Council (Hillingdon) to keep him in for assessment. The care workers had logged several "assaults" - which Stephen's father says were harmless attempts to gain attention. Stephen is still detained under a procedure called DOLS (Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards). This is intended to protect someone who may be a danger to himself (not to other people). Because it's not covered by the Mental Health Act (because autism is not a mental illness) there is no right of appeal to a tribunal. The Council is currently proposing to send Stephen to an assessment centre in Wales.

Political correctness
The term 'politically correct' has never meant much, apart from being a general label of dislike. In the blog article on this, "Anna Raccoon" says:
Now the Positive Behaviour Unit is a mighty politically correct place. Tap someone on the shoulder to attract their attention, and they don’t think ‘that is how Stephen has always attracted my attention since he was a child’ – they say – ‘he touched me, that is an assault’ and promptly record it in their daily log…..
And I think it's at that point that the term has finally lost all meaning. There may be all sorts of reasons to criticise the Unit's actions, but if we recall that 'politically correct' was originally about actively protecting and promoting the rights of minorities and the powerless, the behaviour of the Unit as described here is as far as you can get from that.

Nevertheless, I've signed the petition calling on Hillingdon to let Stephen return to his father, and posted a link on Facebook suggesting my friends there do so too. But I have reservations.

First, I know that councils don't keep people in any form of residential care for fun. It is incredibly expensive for one thing, and by and large council staff aren't ogres. Councils generally can't and don't give their reasons for this sort of decision because they have a duty to keep the client's confidence.

Second, who am I to give an opinion? All I know about this case I've read from a partisan blog. It feels wrong, certainly, but I'm in no sense qualified to say that Stephen would be better off at home.

Maybe I'm still too contaminated by my old job, but here's my more considered view.

There is apparently no tribunal that can review DOLS decisions. That seems wrong and the system should be amended. In the meantime, councils ought to establish their own independent review system, probably containing representatives of health services and voluntary agencies, who can consider each case in full and in private. If there were a petition to ask for that, I'd sign it, but for now, I have to sign the petition that assumes I and anyone who's read about Stephen knows enough about him to say what's right.

So, readers, whether you sign the petition or not is up to you. But please don't say this is "pc gone mad". It really isn't.


placebobuttons said...

Hello there, it's true that there are not 'tribunals' that can review DoLS decisions, in the way that there are tribunals that review detention under the Mental Health Act, but under the DoLS certain individuals have the right to appeal to the Court of Protection - with automatic rights to legal aid. The problems with this system are that only 'part 10 representatives' (a bit like the 'nearest relative' under the Mental Health Act) have a right to appeal to the Court, and councils themselves appoint them. This means they can avoid appointing people who will object to the DoLS. In this case, the council did not do that, but they can use other tactics - chiefly by not letting representatives know they have this right of appeal, or about their other rights to advocacy or free legal aid. Even once families know they have these rights it can be extraordinarily difficult to find a solicitor who practices in this area; and when I say difficult, it's not unusual for people to ring upwards of 50 law firms before they find one. So there is a right of appeal, but there are so many obstacles that people are likely to use it only rarely.

Brian said...

Thanks for your comment, placebobuttons. Sounds like an appalling piece of law. By the way, I have read and admired your blog entries - what a pity there aren't more of such evocative and thought-provoking writing!

placebobuttons said...

Thanks Brian! I keep meaning to write more often...

I completely agree with you this is not 'political correctness' at all; it's interesting how far the case has been taken up by more right wing bloggers when (to my mind at least) the core issue is the failure to raise revenue to pay for better care.