Safeguards brought in to prevent vulnerable people from being arbitrarily detained in hospital are not being used, according to legal experts.

Most primary care trusts and local authorities have applied the deprivation of liberty safeguards fewer than five times since they were introduced in April, according to the latest figures collated by law firm Weightmans.

This is despite the government predicting around 5,250 people would benefit from the safeguards in the first year they were brought in.

Mental Health Network director Steve Shrubb said: “The take-up is relatively slow. It’s vital we protect people’s rights - we should be finding out what’s going on.”

The safeguards accompanied the Mental Capacity Act 2007 and aim to ensure people are deprived of their liberty only when there is no other way to care for them or provide treatment to them safely.

Of the 300 PCTs and local authorities charged with implementing the safeguards, more than two thirds say they had fewer than five cases and almost a quarter had none at all.