After the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a scathing report about the detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism, the Government have announced that there will be urgent reviews leading to the discharge of wrongly detained young people.

On 1 November 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published a report entitled “The detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism.” The report considered the issue of inappropriate or long-term placements of children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism in mental health hospitals and the threat that such placements pose to their human rights.

The report detailed the “terrible suffering” caused to young people in mental health hospitals and the “anguish” this causes for their “distraught families.”

Several recent documentaries have exposed “taunting and abuse” in mental health hospitals, such as Whorlton Hall. The JCHR said trust had been lost in the system and the regulator as the exposure of wrongful treatment had been left to media sources such as the BBC.

Statistics

There were 2,250 people with learning disabilities and/or autism in hospital at the end of September 2019. Over half (1,295) of those have been there for over two years in total, and 660 were under 24 years old.

Proposals

The current situation is unacceptable, and the JCHR have made urgent proposals that include:
1. The establishment of a Number 10 unit to drive forward reform
2. A review of the framework for the provision of services
3. Stronger legal entitlements
4. Care and treatment reviews to be put on a statutory footing
5. The narrowing of the criteria for detention under the Mental Health Act
6. Recognition of families of people with learning disabilities and/or autism as human rights defenders
7. Substantive reform of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC’s) approach and processes

Government response

In response, the Government are demanding an urgent discharge review for every person with autism and learning disabilities held in secure hospital units in a bid to force the release of hundreds of wrongly detained people. Ministers will also publish incarceration rates showing the worst offending single area.

Matt Hancock, the Health Minister, has also asked officials to detach autism and learning disabilities from mental health legislation. Current laws define autism as a mental disorder, making it easier for doctors to dispatch patients to secure units.

There is still so much to be done to protect the rights of young people with learning disability and/or autism and even more to be done to ensure they receive appropriate care and treatment, but it is reassuring to see the Government reacting to the grim picture painted by the JCHR’s report.

Further information

If you have concerns about your own or a family member’s detention in such an institution, or about Mental Health Tribunals or Court of Protection welfare proceedings, please contact Rebekah Sambrooks or Kirsty MacMillan, who has recently returned from maternity leave.