Call to set up hotline for families of autistic children ‘locked up in medieval practice’

An advice hotline should be set up for families of children with learning disabilities and autism who face Christmas “locked up and detained by a medieval practice”, ministers have been told.

The call at Westminster came as the Government announced that thousands of mental health hospital patients suffering from those conditions would have their care reviewed over the next 12 months.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also committed to change the definition of mental disorder in legislation to exclude autism and learning disabilities.

It follows a report by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights that said mental health legislation must be overhauled to stop the “horrific” and inappropriate detention of young people with autism or learning disabilities.

The report said the human rights of many young people were being breached in mental health hospitals, and called for the criteria for detention under the Mental Health Act to be narrowed.

Mr Hancock has announced the creation of an independent panel, chaired by Baroness Hollins, to oversee a case review for those in long-term segregation to help with their discharge into the community as “quickly as possible”.

Data on inpatients who have learning disabilities or autism will also be published by the Government as a commitment to “greater transparency”, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Raising the issue in the House of Lords, Labour peer Lord Touhig, vice president of the National Autistic Society, said: “Since 2015 there has been a 24% increase in the number of autistic people sectioned even if they have no mental illness. Because the Mental Health Act defines autism as a mental disorder. Autism is not a mental disorder.”

He welcomed the promise by the Health Secretary to “detach” autism and learning difficulties from mental health legislation and the setting up of the care review.

But Lord Touhig (pictured) added: “These reviews are going to be conducted over a 12-month period.

“Will the Government set up an advice hotline for families who are in despair?

“Despair because they have no idea where to go for help or advice as their children face Christmas locked up and detained by a medieval practice that deprives them of their human rights.”

Health minister Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford said: “The Government is committed to ensuring that people with learning difficulties, autistic people, have had the best quality of life and lived full life in the community.”

The steps being taken by the Government “are designed to ensure that we do deliver this”, she added.

Lady Blackwood promised to “take back” the suggestion of a hotline to the department.

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