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The ‘horrific reality’ of UK mental health hospitals revealed

8 November 2019 at 5:06 pm
Luke Michael
A UK report is calling for an overhaul of the mental health system to protect people with disability 

Luke Michael | 8 November 2019 at 5:06 pm


The ‘horrific reality’ of UK mental health hospitals revealed
8 November 2019 at 5:06 pm

A UK report is calling for an overhaul of the mental health system to protect people with disability 

People with disability are having their human rights breached in UK mental health hospitals, according to a new report.

A UK parliamentary committee found the detention of people with learning disabilities and/or autism was often inappropriate, causing major suffering and long-term damage.

The report said there was a lack of political focus and accountability to reduce the number of these people in mental health hospitals, with the committee recommending changes to the Mental Health Act to prevent inappropriate detention.

Committee chair Harriet Harman said the inquiry had starkly shown the change that urgently needed to be driven forward.

“It has been left to the media and desperate, anguished parents to expose the brutal reality of our system of detention of people with learning disabilities or autism. We must not look away,” Harman said.

“The horrific reality is of whole lives needlessly blighted, and families in despair. 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.”

Julie Newcombe, whose son Jamie was detained for 19 months, told the inquiry Jamie had his arm broken in a restraint. 

“His arm was wrenched up behind his back until the bone snapped. He was then not taken to accident and emergency for 24 hours, even though his arm was completely swollen,” Newcombe said.

The committee said the right housing, social care and health services needed to stop people being detained inappropriately were not being commissioned at a local level.

It also noted that families were often considered to be the problem instead of the solution, even when desperately trying to advocate on behalf of their children.

The report called for the establishment of a Number 10 Unit, with cabinet level leadership, to urgently drive reform and protect the human rights of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said the “damning” report showed that hundreds of autistic people in England were being failed by the NHS and social care.

She said despite repeated promises over many years, the number of autistic people in mental health hospitals continued to rise.

“Children and adults are being held in hospital against their will for months and often years, miles away from their family. Many are forced to take medication they don’t need, restrained, and kept in isolation,” Harris said.

“If you’re autistic, being in hospital can be traumatic in itself – let alone in these circumstances.”

She said political parties must commit to put money into social care and good mental health services for autistic people, while also reviewing mental health laws to “make it fit for the 21st century”.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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