Why are Britain’s mental health hospitals being criticised?

Patients with learning disabilities endure ‘horrific’ conditions, say MPs and peers

Mental health

Mental health hospitals in England are breaching the human rights of young people with learning disabilities and autism, a parliamentary report has found.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights says patients are enduring “horrific” conditions and can inflict “terrible suffering on those detained… causing anguish to their distraught families”, the BBC reports.

The committee’s report urges an overhaul of how facilities are inspected to improve standards and a review of mental health law, says Sky News.

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The inquiry into the detention of young people with learning disabilities or autism was launched in January.–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues free–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

What did the report find?

The committee, the 12 members of which come from the House of Commons and House of Lords, found that the detention of people with learning disabilities and autism is “often inappropriate” and “causes suffering and does long-term damage”.

It heard evidence of “a significant increase in distress and a worsening of symptoms for those detained, particularly where segregation and restraint have been used”.

Parents told the inquiry of injuries their children suffered while under supervision at the hospitals.

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

Another mother said her son was kept in isolation for up to nine hours at a time. “He started to bang his head against the wall and would bite the wood in the doorframe out of desperation,” she said.

The committee said it had “lost confidence that the system is doing what it says it is doing and the regulator’s method of checking is not working”.

What do MPs and peers want?

The committee is calling for the criteria allowing detentions under the Mental Health Act to be narrowed to protect patients from failing mental health hospitals.

The report says that only individuals who will benefit from treatment should be detained in mental hospitals, and families should be fully involved in decisions, says the BBC.

The committee also wants a special Downing Street unit – led by ministers – to protect the human rights of young people with learning disabilities and autism.

It said inspections should be overhauled so that they include covert surveillance and unannounced visits, including at night and weekends.

Labour MP Harriet Harman, who chairs the committee, said “urgent change” was needed. “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.

“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.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We are committed to ensuring people with a learning disability and autistic people have the best possible quality of life,” The Guardian reports.

“Above all, human rights must be protected and where people do require inpatient care it must be of the highest quality, close to home and for the shortest possible time.

“The number of inpatients with learning disabilities or autism in mental health settings is falling but there is still more to do.”

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