We must not look away

"We must not look away. The horrific reality is of whole lives needlessly blighted, and families in despair", Harriet Harman MP QC, speaking about the findings of Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights into the treatment of people with learning disabilities and autistic people in mental health hospitals that is published today.

Mark Brown

In a powerful report published today on The detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism  Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights, has come to a number of damning conclusions:

"We consider that the human rights of many of those with a learning disability and/ or autism are being breached in mental health hospitals. The detention of individuals in the absence of individualised, therapeutic treatment risks violating an individual’s Article 5 right to liberty and security. In some cases, detention may even reach the threshold of degrading treatment contrary to Article 3."

The report also found examples of appalling treatment and came to the conclusion that the detention of people with learning disabilities and/or autism is often inappropriate, and that it can cause suffering and do long term damage. 

Too often the families of young people, who may be desperately trying advocate on behalf of their children are considered to be the problem. This can often result in them being subject to legal action and in them being excluded from important decisions. Decisions that can often result in their loved ones being take away from their families and placed with strangers many miles from their homes.  

The report also cites a lack of housing, social care and health services needed to prevent people being detained inappropriately. Stating that these are simply not being commissioned at a local level. 

It goes on to say that the committee has “no confidence that the target to reduce the numbers of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in mental health hospitals, set out in the NHS Long Term plan, will be met”. The biggest barrier to progress is a lack of political focus and accountability to drive change. 

Chair of the committee, the Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP QC stated that in gathering evidence for the report " 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". 

In attempting to deal with the "horrific reality" of people's detention the report made a number of recommendations including:

  • The establishment of a Number 10 Unit, with cabinet level leadership, to urgently drive forward reform and safeguard the human rights of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism
  • Families of those with learning disabilities and/or autism must be recognised as human rights defenders 
  • Changes to the law including - The creation of legal duties on Clinical Commission Groups and local authorities to ensure the right services are available in the community and a narrowing of the Mental Health Act criteria to avoid inappropriate detention
  • Substantive reform of the Care Quality Commission's approach and processes. This should include unannounced inspections taking place at weekends and in the late evening. And where appropriate, the use of covert surveillance methods to better inform inspection judgements.

In a statement Julie Newcombe, a witness to the committee and co-founder of Rightfullives said:

“The JCHR report is an incredibly comprehensive document. It feels as if people and families have truly been listened to. We would like to thank Harriet Harman and the committee for recognising the gravity of the human rights abuses that so many people are having to endure.”