Pressure builds over deaths of people with a learning disability or autism in care

25 March 2019, 16:37 | Updated: 25 March 2019, 20:47

The shadow care minister has called on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to address concerns over the deaths of people with a learning disability or autism who were in care.

Barbara Keeley has written to Mr Hancock asking him to address parliament following a Sky News report of claims from two families that failings in the care system contributed to their loved ones' deaths.

The report highlighted the cases of Amanda Briley, who had autism and was 20 when she took her life while admitted to a mental health unit in 2016; and Clive Treacey, who had a learning difficulty and was 47 when he died in an autism unit in the same year.

Both Ms Briley and Mr Treacey were among 40 people who died in the space of three years while admitted to the Transforming Care programme, an NHS scheme intended to move those with a learning difficulty or autism out of institutions into community-based care.

Ms Briley had been waiting seven months for an appropriate placement when she died. Mr Treacey had been in institutional care for most of his life and was waiting for community care at the time of his death.

Ms Keeley tabled an urgent question about deaths in the Transforming Care programme last year, and was told by care minister Caroline Dinenage that an ongoing NHS England review had found "nothing untoward".

In her letter Ms Keeley said: "[The families] testimony directly contradicts Caroline Dinenage's comments in the House on 6 November that 'there is no indication that any of the deaths were untoward'. The facts of these cases show that they are clearly 'untoward' by any measure.

"I request that you come to the House of Commons and explain why the minister believed the circumstances in these cases were not untoward and give members of parliament assurances that more of the deaths revealed by Sky News did not occur as a result of unacceptable failures in the delivery of care."

The Transforming Care programme has failed to meet its own five-year target of moving between 35% and 50% of the more than 2,000 people admitted to residential Assessment & Treatment Units (ATUs) into community settings by this month, and has now pushed back that target five years.

In light of this Ms Keeley urged Mr Hancock to push the government to end the use of ATUs entirely.

"It is unconscionable to lock people with learning disabilities and autism in these units when they could be better supported with packages of care in the community. Therefore, I call on you now to commit to ending these placements altogether by 2022."

Last week NHS England said its review of the 40 deaths was ongoing.

A spokesperson said: "NHS England is currently reviewing a number of cases, and where concerns are raised will support local areas to investigate these further, as is standard procedure.

"And over the next few months we will be taking further steps to make sure every local area reviews all deaths of people with a learning disability, autism or both that occur in specialist inpatient settings in a timely way, so that families can be assured and staff can use any learnings to continue to improve care."

In November last year, Mr Hancock ordered a review of the long-term treatment of people with learning disabilities or autism.