Are we creeping closer to emergence of solid LEGAL PRINCIPLE on cost-capping for home care packages, by reference to the cost of a package in a cheaper setting?

The end of this important case, A local authority v X (Holman J)

After the interim hearing, at which the LA had refused to trial the man out with a package in his own home for a month, given the long term financial unsustainability of the cost, the LA was required to serve a commissioning decision letter setting out what packages of care, if any, they would commission for the patient if the patient had capacity to decide to return to his home and chose to do so.

The letter was required to include consideration of direct payments to the patient.

The jointly instructed independent expert in this case, and also the treating psychiatrist at the hospital where the patient currently resides, were both required to file and serve updated reports as to capacity.

The Head of Adult Safeguarding and Learning Difficulties in the local authority wrote a further decision letter dated 31 October 2016.

The gist and effect of that letter is that the local authority remain unwilling to fund a package of care in the patient’s home with two carers present around the clock at a cost of a little under £500,000 per annum.

The decision maker did also consider a further quote that they had obtained from an alternative provider at the lower sum of £338,000 per annum, but he decided that even that cost “is unsustainable in the long-term. For similar reasons [to the earlier quote at just under £500,000] the local authority would also decline to commission a care package at this lower rate.”

The decision maker went on in his letter to consider whether the local authority would be willing to fund less expensive packages, essentially involving less intensive provision of carers. He concluded that they would not, essentially for two reasons. One reason was that they considered that there were potential risks to a single carer caring for this particular patient alone and that the wellbeing of the carers required at least two to be present at all times.

The other reason was that, in any event, the local authority considered that the needs of this patient are so great and that he so frequently needs two people present to turn him or assist him in other ways that, realistically, two people would have to be funded and present at all times.

The decision maker also decided that they were not willing, in this case, to make direct payments to the patient himself, which he considered “an inappropriate way to meet his needs”.

Comment

So would the council be walking away, if he were to leave hospital and go home, refusing the alternative placement in the hospital or elsewhere?

Would you believe it?

On 10 October 2016 there was consideration by the Independent Local Resolution Panel of a longstanding dispute in this case about the customer’s NHS CHC rights.

The court was told that the opinion of that panel will be that the care needs of this patient should be funded by the NHS through the local CCG. It turns out that the CCG was discharged as a party much earlier in the case, to be reinstated as a party in just this event. The poor old CCG!!

The judge then declared, once and for all, despite the council’s disagreement, interestingly, that the service user has capacity to make up his own mind about what he is to be offered (this will challenge the CCG, of course).

So, the CCG will have to decide whether it is appropriate to place this man in a care home or hospital or pay for his care in the community, and any challenge to that determination will likely proceed not in the Court of Protection but in the judicial review court, if anywhere!

Properly understood, the case establishes no new principle: it’s always been possible for a public body to decide that where two places CAN meet needs, there is only one practicable place to meet them, and choosing the cheaper of the two. It’s not a breach of human rights or of any Care Act principle to make that invidious decision. If people don’t like that, they need to lobby Parliament to change the law.

What the case hints at though, is that the council was probably given and accepted some firm legal advice that it was not open to abandon its professional judgement on some misguided altar of ‘choice’, (not even in the case of a person with capacity), and just give the person a direct payment of some lesser amount than is needed at home, or the alternative equivalent cost of residential care.

And that is what all CCGs and councils toying with such policies need to factor into their decision-making now, before they risk embarrassing themselves further and setting precedents that the sector has managed to avoid for over 20 years since the Lancashire case.

Original post

In the week that the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust have reported evidence of a £1.9 billion gap in funding in the sector, (see https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2016/11/listening-to-chorus-of-concern-around-social-care) where its authors have anticipated that legal challenges will inevitably arise, soon –  an important judicial decision has been released from Holman J., in the Court of Protection.

Readers will appreciate that in that Court, the judge has no judicial review jurisdiction to determine whether a council’s offer of a care package is lawful, irrational or unfair.

The CoP judges do have a limited Human Rights role, because they could find that a package being offered, which involved disproportionate deprivation of liberty or inadequate respect for a person’s article 8 rights, would not be in the Best Interests of the person concerned in the proceedings. That’s not quite the same as saying it’s unlawful; but it comes quite close. .

This decision, however, because of the heavy and articulate hints in it, should be seen as taking the adult social care world one step nearer to the holy grail of community care law: a position on the circumstances in which it could ever be lawful to offer a person a lower-than-known-to-be-necessary sum, to meet eligible needs, based on there being an alternative appropriate and lawful setting that would cost the council much less, but which the client wishes to refuse.

Here is a free reference to the case online: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2016/44.html

The client in this case was the victim of an accident for which no-one was to blame; his care costs are astronomical. He is currently in a specialist hospital, in which the council has commissioned care, although it is not medical care, or the responsibility of the Health Service. The client may or may not lack capacity to decide whether to refuse a care package offered by the council – that issue has not been decided as yet, and may never be, because of the academic nature of the question, if in effect there IS only one choice for the man to make – the only choice that the council is prepared to pay for, for the foreseeable future, which is care in the current setting, on account of the costs were he to go home to his own home, an adapted rented house.

The difference between care in his own home and care in the specialist setting is £468K to £156K per year. The council had made a firm decision that it will not offer to meet his needs in his own home, but that it would meet them in the current setting, even though it is not the man’s preference or wish to accept living there for the rest of his life.

The cost of the care is on account of his behaviour as well as his needs, ie for the safety of staff, although no-one is suggesting that he should be able to stop himself from behaving unacceptably (so the Muriqi Kujtim doctrine could not apply).

CHC status (free NHS care) does not appear to ave been in the offing, despite his challenging behaviour, perhaps because although his injury was serious, rendering him tetraplegic, the needs that are exacerbating the inputs are in domains related to daily living rather than treatment, diagnosis medication or care, as such, and/or possibly because they arose from his prior personality disorder, and prior abuse of drugs and alcohol, and not from his injury.

The judge has masterfully managed to give his view, in 4 important excerpts from the report, without exceeding his jurisdiction in the Court of Protection:

“He has, I think, suggested that the local authority might consider paying to him the weekly sum that they pay the hospital so that he, with that funding, could organise his own care. That suggestion is, I am afraid, completely unrealistic.”

This suggests that in the judge’s view,  the council would not be likely to agree to this and could not be made to offer something that could not work.

….”one possibility is that they [the council] will say that they cannot fund any care on that basis, for the situation would be so unsafe for him that they would not be willing to participate in it.”

This is consistent with the Judge’s analysis being that it is legal and legally safe for the authority to say that “if he has capacity he can refuse a service but we do have to do anything further.” And that is consistent with existing case law and legal principle.

“He can fairly ask through the Official Solicitor what minimum and lesser level of care the local authority would be willing to fund if he does have capacity to decide to return home and does, in fact, choose to return home.”

This is a principle which emerged from an earlier case, KK, where in fact the judge there said there that an authority MUST make their view of the maximum offer that it would be prepared to make, in any other setting clear, before it can decide that someone in refusing lacks capacity to do so, thereby justifying a DoLS finding of lack of capacity. The judge there referred to a practicable offer – which in my view has always been a euphemism for an offer that was lawful, or at least one that was not likely to be so unlawful as to be judicially reviewable, not a figure out of the blue.

On one footing of course it’s possible to say that the other setting’s cost is not an arbitrary figure – it is rational, it would be argued, given the other option would have had to have been appropriate even to be a lawful offer in the first place. But that still doesn’t get one over the significance of the council’s knowing that the person’s needs would still cost MORE in their own home!  The judge is hypothesising here, In a case where the person’s own presentation requires the staff to be properly protected, the cost could not simply be derived mathematically from the alternative cost of another setting, where greater staff ratios would be always present.

This sends a very loud warning shot out to the social care world, that it could only ever be feasible to offer the price of another setting, to someone determined to stay at home or GO home, to capacitated people (or incapacitated people with a welfare deputy or attorney) to whom a properly defensible offer in relation to the cost of meeting needs in the actual anticipated setting, has been made.

Those needs may well have been re-drawn, on the second ‘go’ once an apparent refusal of care home care has been made, because the assessor may have been able, justifiably, to say this: “in your own home, your view of risk and the value or running it – together with your agreeing with us that you will not do x y or z, so as to minimise risk, (and any freshly volunteered informal input from friends, relatives, etc) has given us a lawful reason to fund you to the tune of less than we first thought would be needed” – but that’s not necessarily as low as the cost of residential care!

Where someone lacks capacity, in relation to refusing the offer of a care home, DoLS will still be available, obviating the need for consideration of a package at home, unless relatives threaten a judicial review.

“Frankly, if the local authority are unwilling or unable to fund a safe package of care within his own home, there is no other person or body who can, or will do so. Subject only to any possible judicial review of the decision of the local authority, the required safe level of care simply will not be available for him in his home.”

This suggests that his human rights and his rights to independent living under the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons cannot be used in the UK courts to establish a positive enforceable right to live in a non-institutional setting, if one needs State funded care. I would suggest that such care, in a care home, is still to be seen as IN the community, albeit more restrictive; further, the human rights in article 8 refer to the economic interests of the area and the rights and freedoms of others, as qualifying the human right in question – and in UN Convention terms, independence is a matter of degree and affordability for all of us.

Conclusions

All these points come from a legally literate approach to adult social care, without which, in my view, it is impossible for councils to function properly, whether that be strategically, managerially, or in front line operational terms.

All these points have been the subject matter of my training courses for over 15 years, because cost-capping first came before the court in a case in the late 1990s, involving Haringey – called ex p Norton no. 2, which was settled just before trial, and therefore no precedent ever set.

So how about this for a suggestion: isn’t it time that councils either allowed themselves to be judicially reviewed for doing it, so that we can all be clearer on the legal position?

Carrying on just settling cases if one looks really likely to go to court means that the vulnerable and the uninformed and the anxious get the least choice and freedom, and underfunded care packages – which must be the absolute antithesis of social work based on non-discrimination, anti-oppression, human rights and ethical practice.

If you want to be prepared for the legal challenges, don’t skimp on legal framework training, and get some in soon, by way of my webinar series via the Webinars page above,  or through my face to face training options on the Training page of http://www.careandhealthlaw.com

 

Belinda Schwehr

About Belinda Schwehr

Belinda has been a lawyer (both a barrister and then a solicitor advocate), a law lecturer at a university, and a trainer and consultant specialising in Adults' Social Care legal framework issues. She first became interested in social care law when the Gloucestershire case was running between 1995 and 1997, never having met a real live social worker, before that point! She regards social care as the most interesting field of law she has ever been associated with, combining aspects of public law, the regulation of power, economics, management skills, EU law, procurement, criminal law, incapacity law, land law and contract, and doesn't expect ever to tire of the stuff. If the Care Act is going to be the last word on it, however, she would like to think it was worth all that sitting there and getting fatter whilst thinking about how it should all hang together! She does glass craftwork and house renovations for a hobby, has one son in his twenties, and about 5000 online friends... soon to be 50,000, with any luck!

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