MPs call for an end to the 'horrific' detention of young people with learning disabilities

1 November 2019, 00:37

Whorlton Hall was revealed to be mistreating patients in May this year
Whorlton Hall was revealed to be mistreating patients in May this year. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The human rights of many young people with autism or learning difficulties are being breached in mental health hospitals, MPs say.

Mental health legislation needs to be overhauled to prevent the "horrific" and inappropriate detention of many young people, a new report has said.

MPs have said that the treatment on young people in mental health facilities can cause their lives to be "needlessly blighted" and their families to suffer.

Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights said it has "lost confidence that the system is doing what it says it is doing and the regulator's method of checking is not working".

It has said that the criteria for a young person to be held under the Mental Health Act needs to be "narrowed" to protect people from the from the "horrific reality" it can bring.

Labour MP Harriet Harman, who chaired the committee, said: "This inquiry has shown with stark clarity the urgent change that is needed and we've set out simple proposals for exactly that. They must now be driven forward, urgently.

"It has been left to the media and desperate, anguished parents to expose the brutal reality of our system of detention of people with learning disabilities or autism. We must not look away.

"The horrific reality is of whole lives needlessly blighted, and families in despair. What we saw does not fit our society's image of itself as one which cares for the vulnerable and respects everyone's human rights. It must not be allowed to continue."

Harriet Harman headed up the committee
Harriet Harman headed up the committee. Picture: PA

The committee launched its inquiry in April.

Within their report, the committee laid out the "predictable" pathway that a child takes to end up in mental health facilities.

It laid out a pattern whereby a child's condition worsens and their under-supported family struggles to cope and they are then taken away.

Once they are isolated and away from their family, their condition worsens plans to return home are shelved and concerned parents are treated with hostility.

It concluded that it has no confidence in the Government's target to reduce the number of young people with autism or learning difficulties in mental health facilities.

The report also stated that "a regulator which gets it wrong is worse than no regulator at all", referring to the Care Quality Commission, after it failed to detect potential human rights abuses at Whorlton Hall and other hospitals

Some parents said they feel excluded from decisions about their child, while others told the inquiry they had been "gagged" from speaking out.

One mother said her son, whose arm was snapped after being wrenched up behind his back, had to wait 24 hours before being taken to A&E.

Another parent told of how their son would be kept in isolation for hours at a time and would bite the wood in the doorframe "out of desperation".

Some young people are not receiving appropriate medical treatment but are subject to physical and medical restraint, such as psychotropic medication, which is intended for those with a serious mental health illness, the committee said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "We are committed to ensuring people with a learning disability and autistic people have the best possible quality of life.

"Above all, human rights must be protected and where people do require inpatient care it must be of the highest quality, close to home and for the shortest possible time.

They continued: "The number of inpatients with learning disabilities or autism in mental health settings is falling but there is still more to do. The NHS Long Term Plan will reduce numbers even further by improving specialist services and community crisis care, reducing avoidable admissions and shortening stays in hospital.

"We will consider these recommendations carefully and respond to them in due course."