Mental health solicitors have accused the government of allowing a ‘postcode lottery’ to develop that deprives thousands of mentally vulnerable people of safeguards guaranteed by legislation.

The solicitors claim that a ‘postcode lottery for patients’ has led to ‘wide regional variations’ in the use of safeguards implicit in the Mental Capacity Act and, in particular, that there are ‘significant problems’ with the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLs) scheme, which is overly complex and poorly drafted.

This is underlined by Care Quality Commission (CQC) findings that less than 5% of the NHS hospitals it recently inspected had ever made an application under the DOLs scheme. The commission found evidence of ‘de facto informal detention of patients’, some of who lacked capacity to consent, the solicitors say.

They add that the increased use of community care for people lacking mental capacity should be reflected in increased training for social workers and other front line staff, but extra training has rarely been provided.

The Law Society mental health & disability and wills & equity committees were responding to a call for evidence by the House of Lords select committee, which is reviewing the Mental Capacity Act. Their response is to be published later this month.