Charity hits out at scandal of people with learning disabilities still being ‘locked up’

A charity has warned of a “domestic human rights scandal” over the number of people with a learning disability being kept in institutions.

Mencap said a lack of urgency and poor funding for community-based support meant hundreds of people are being “locked up” away from their families.

The latest data for February shows there are 2,295 adults and children with a learning disability and/or autism in inpatient units across England.

This is around 600 more than the Government target to move 35% to 50% of people with a learning disability and/or autism out of institutions and into the community by the end of this month, Mencap said.

Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap, said: “Eight years on from the Winterbourne View scandal, where the public were made aware of the shocking abuses happening in an inpatient unit, it is clear that the Government has failed to deliver on its promise to transform care.

“Thousands of vulnerable people are being detained in institutions, often hundreds of miles away from their families, subject to physical restraint, over-medication and being kept in isolation.

“Their families are powerless to get them out. This is a domestic human rights scandal.

“We want to see them back home in their communities, living fulfilling lives with proper support.”

Mr Scorer said NHS England had “acknowledged its failures” when it pushed back the deadline for closing inpatient beds by five years.

A new deadline in the NHS long-term plan says that by March 2024 50% of inpatient beds should be closed.

The February data shows there were more than 2,500 incidents of restrictive interventions – such as physical restraint – in units, with over 800 of these involving children.

Mencap said people spent an average of almost five-and-a-half years in inpatient units away from home.

It also pointed to what it said is “a perverse financial incentive” to keep people in institutions paid for by the NHS rather than moving them to community-based care, which is often funded by local authorities.

Mr Scorer said: “It is outrageous that such large amounts of money are being spent sending people away to services that fail them and in many cases damage people rather than help.

“All too often, these extremely expensive units, some run by the NHS and others by the private healthcare sector, are simply being used as ‘dumping grounds’ by commissioners looking for an easy ‘solution’ at any cost.

“As a result, people can be sent many miles away from home and then left there for many years.

“Money is being spent on the wrong type of care. This needs to shift from inpatient units to health and social care services in the community.

“Report after report has said what must be done but the Government has failed to tackle the blocks to progress, allowing this scandal to continue before our eyes.”

Isabelle Garnett, from London, is the mother of 18-year-old Matthew.

She said: “Matthew spent 15 months under section, during which time his mental and physical health deteriorated catastrophically, and we became more and more concerned about his safety and well-being.

“Matthew thought he was in prison, and, to us, it felt like he was being punished for being autistic.

“Rather than his behaviours being seen as a communication of what he might not be coping with, or struggling to understand, Matthew was over-medicated, secluded and restrained.

“It took many months of fighting for our son to get him out of a secure mental health hospital.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Mencap.