Investigation triggers 4th inquiry
Published by The Mail on Sunday (13th January, 2019)
A major investigation into the abusive care of patients with autism is set to be launched by MPs – the fourth since The Mail on Sunday revealed how hundreds of teenagers and young adults are being locked up, forcibly drugged and violently restrained.
It is understood the Health and Social Care Select Committee, chaired by Conservative MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston, will examine the scandal and the floundering care system that leads to routine abuse and detention.
Westminster sources confirmed they were deciding on the scope of the investigation, which is likely to begin in the spring. ‘We are very keen to look hard at these issues,’ said one key figure.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has already told the health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to investigate after admitting that he was ‘deeply shocked’ by this newspaper’s revelations that children as young as 13 were being incarcerated in secretive secure units.
Distraught families have told how relatives with autism and learning disabilities are locked in solitary cells, fed through hatches like animals, and forcibly injected with drugs to sedate them.
One man has been held for 18 years, and 40 autistic patients have died in assessment and treatment units since 2015, often in abysmal conditions.
But a group of cross-party MPs last week accused Mr Hancock of ‘backtracking’ over such ‘inhumane detention’ in the Government’s new ten-year plan for the NHS.
The plan only commits the NHS to reducing the number of people with autism and learning disabilities in hospital units to less than half the 2015 levels by 2024, despite previous pledges to end such detention.
The MPs – including former Liberal Democrat Minister Norman Lamb, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care Barbara Keeley, and Tories Johnny Mercer and Charles Walker – accused Mr Hancock of abandoning a target to cut numbers held by up to half by March this year.
‘Those held in institutions, who could live independent lives with support, have their human rights breached in an unacceptable way,’ the MPs said in a letter to the Health Secretary. ‘We know the use of force is endemic in many institutions, which is a further assault on their human rights. There is also grave concern over use of medication on patients.’
Mr Lamb, who organised the letter, said he was horrified that the Government was effectively encouraging the NHS to ‘take its foot off the pedal’ to end abuse.
Mr Walker, who has admitted to his own mental health issues, called on the Government to act quickly. ‘This has been overlooked for too long and we can’t let this suffering continue,’ he said.
Harriet Harman, chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has already started its own investigation, has also written to Mr Hancock over ‘perverse incentives’ that lead to detention in ‘inappropriate’ institutions.
She demanded to know if private providers had a ‘vested interest’ in keeping autistic patients locked up, which can cost taxpayers £730,000 per person a year.
Ms Harman also asked if divisions between the NHS and local authorities stopped patients being freed. ‘This is not a good use of public money given that community care is often less expensive than inpatient care,’ she said. Her letter followed questioning by the committee last week of three senior NHS and CQC officials. ‘They just spouted gobbledegook and theory,’ said one infuriated MP.
The Mail on Sunday has also discovered that a report commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care before the Winterbourne View scandal in 2011 – which revealed abuse in a privately run Gloucestershire care home – warned that the model of private provision, funded on debt, would frustrate efforts to free those being confined.
After the Government refused to publish the findings, it was released by a think-tank.
Rob Greig, former national director for learning disabilities, who co-wrote the report, said: ‘I was very disappointed that they [the Government] showed little interest in what we were saying.’
Over the past decade, the proportion of people with autism and learning disabilities in privately-run beds has soared from one-fifth to more than half as new players muscled in and opened secure units despite Government pledges to close them.
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield is also investigating the scandal.