Further horrifying evidence that many people with learning difficulties and/or autism are being badly abused in mental health hospitals

On 23rd October, the parliamentary Joint Commission on Human Rights published a report on the detention of young people with learning difficulties and/or autism.

The Committee has described the terrible suffering of many of the young people concerned and the anguish for many of their families. You will find heart breaking descriptions of abuse in the first chapter of the report, descriptions which, sadly, are replicated for many of us who have been given a mental health diagnosis. The Committee does not have confidence in existing systems and approaches, not least because it has been left to the media to highlight the extent of abuse which is occurring. However, the Committee’s own proposals for change fall well short of the full human rights in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and related calls from user-led groups such as People First to close Assessment and Training Units altogether and implement independent living under Article 19 of the UNCRPD. Further detail from Dorothy Gould is available here.

In the report, the Care Quality Commission is heavily criticised for letting down people with difficulties and/or autism: ‘A regulator which gets it wrong is worse than no regulator at all’ (p.55). The Committee is sceptical about the target in the NHS Long Term Plan to reduce the number of people with learning difficulties and/or autism in mental health hospitals. It also describes politicians as failing to take effective action and failing to accept accountability for the abuse.

The Committee’s proposals include:

  • A number 10 Unit with cabinet leadership to speed up reductions in detention and protect the rights of people with learning difficulties and/or autism
  • A legal duty for local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to make community services adequately available
  • People with learning difficulties and/or autism having a stronger legal entitlement to support
  • Narrower criteria for their detention under the Mental Health Act
  • Recognition that their families are human rights defenders
  • A substantial reform of the CQC’s approach and processes.

However, these proposals fall short of the calls from user-led groups such as People First, in fact, worryingly, do not include a role for the latter.