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'Broken' wards of courts system 'depriving people of their liberty'

A man lost his bid to leave a nursing home during the week.

Image: Shutterstock/sanjagrujic

THE WARDS OF court system is “broken” and can deprive people with disabilities of their liberty, according to Inclusion Ireland.

The national association for people with an intellectual disability has said the HSE’s “reliance” on the system must end.

The system allows a court to step in and act as an agent when a person is deemed to lack the ability to make their own decisions. There are almost 3,000 people in wardship in Ireland, with assets in excess of €1 billion controlled by the Courts Service.

During the week, a man in his 60s lost his legal bid to leave a nursing home. The man, who suffers from epilepsy, was made a ward of court.

He was placed in a nursing home earlier this year after a period in hospital. His legal team is appealing the decision, amid fears he could lose his home.

President of the High Court Mr Justice Peter Kelly said the court had heard “a clash of medical evidence” regarding the man’s capacity to look after himself. His case may be reviewed if new medical and psychiatric assessments are made.

Paddy Connolly, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said action is needed to prevent such scenarios from happening. He said it is likely to be 2020 by the time the government fully enacts the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015.

“The current preference of the State is to deprive people of their liberty by relying on the broken Wards of Court system rather than by providing citizens with supports to stay in a home of their own in the community.

“Even in a case where a person’s ability to make some decisions is in question, they should have the right to remain at home with supports,” Connolly said.

The continued use of often abusive institutions or congregated settings, where around 2,500 people live without having given their consent, is another example of the State’s preference for institutionalisation rather than investing in homecare and community supports.

Responsibility for implementing much of the 2015 Act will fall under the remit of the Decision Support Service – a new office within the Mental Health Commission.

Connolly called on the Minister for Disabilities Finian McGrath to ensure that the government commits the necessary resources to establish this office “properly and quickly”.

Moving from congregated to community settings

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said McGrath and the government are “committed to supporting people with disabilities to live active lives in their communities and to replacing the Wards of Court system for adults”.

They said the HSE provides a range of assisted living services including Personal Assistant (PA) and Home Support services to “support individuals to maximise their capacity to live full and independent lives”.

The role of a PA is to support a person with a disability so they can live in integrated settings and access community facilities. The Home Support service helps people with domestic and personal care issues at regular intervals on a weekly basis.

The spokesperson said the HSE will provide approximately 1.46 million PA hours and 2.93 million hours of Home Support in 2018.

They said people are being moved from congregated settings to community settings so they can “live a more independent life” with the necessary supports provided.

At the end of 2017, fewer than 2,400 people remained resident in congregated settings.

“Taking into account the target of 170 for 2018 and the non-replacement of vacancies that arise, this figure is expected to reduce to approximately 2,100 by the end of 2018,” the spokesperson said.

They added that additional capital funding of approximately €20 million per year will be made available up to 2021 to further support the move from congregated settings.

When asked about Inclusion Ireland’s comments, a spokesperson for the HSE said the wards of court process “offers significant additional protections to vulnerable people”.

“The committee of the person are charged with ensuring that the most appropriate decisions are made in respect of the ward (the individual),” they added.

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Órla Ryan

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