Government face legal threat over ‘inappropriate’ accommodation for people with learning difficulties
A human rights body is threatening the Government with legal action over its “repeated failure” to give people with learning difficulties and autism the appropriate accommodation.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken the first step towards mounting a legal challenge against Health Secretary Matt Hancock over the “inappropriate inpatient care” of more than 2,000 people.
It has sent a pre-action letter to Mr Hancock, arguing that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has breached the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
The body says the department has failed to meet NHS targets to move patients to community-based settings, and to reduce the reliance on inpatient care of people with learning disabilities and autism.
An inquiry into the often long-term detention of young people with learning disabilities or autism is ongoing.
A report from Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights in November found the human rights of many young people were being breached in mental health hospitals, and decried the “horrific” detention of young people with autism or learning disabilities.
Days later, Mr Hancock said 2,250 hospital patients with learning disabilities and autism will have their care reviewed and be provided with a discharge date or a plan to move them closer to one.
It follows scandals at Whorlton Hall, where BBC Panorama uncovered staff mocking, taunting, intimidating and repeatedly restraining patients, and Winterbourne View, eight years prior in 2011.
The latter led to an independent report which recommended a dramatic reduction in the use of institutions for people with learning disabilities.
Rebecca Hilsenrath (pictured), EHRC chief executive, said: “We cannot afford to miss more deadlines.
“We cannot afford any more Winterbourne Views or Whorlton Halls.
“We cannot afford to risk further abuse being inflicted on even a single more person at the distressing and horrific levels we have seen.
“We need the DHSC to act now.
“These are people who deserve our support and compassion, not abuse and brutality.
“Inhumane and degrading treatment in place of adequate healthcare cannot be the hallmark of our society.
“One scandal should have been one too many.”
The DHSC has 14 days to respond to the letter, which says that legal action will be postponed for three months if the department agrees to produce a timetabled plan on how to address the issues.
If the DHSC does not agree to this, the EHRC will apply to the High Court for a judicial review.
The body is also calling for an enforceable right to independent living for disabled people and said it has developed a legal model to incorporate it into domestic law.
A DHSC spokeswoman said: “We are committed to protecting the rights of everyone with a learning disability or autism, and are determined to continue reducing the number of people with these conditions in mental health hospitals.
“Abuse of any kind against patients in care is abhorrent and we take any allegations very seriously.
“We have received the pre-action letter from the EHRC today and will respond in due course.”
Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) EHRC.