Thousands with learning disabilities and autism still being held in mental health hospitals

The family of a man with autism and a learning disability is trying to get him released from a mental health hospital, claiming the care he's receiving has made his condition worse.

Beckii Davies from Thirsk in North Yorkshire believes her 26-year-old brother's mental health has deteriorated since he was admitted to a secure hospital in County Durham three years ago.

Her brother, who we are not naming to protect his privacy, is one of more than 2,000 people with a learning disability and/or autism being held in assessment and treatment units (ATUs) in England, despite government pledges to reduce that number.

Following the Winterbourne View scandal 10 years ago, which exposed the abuse of mental health patients in a private hospital near Bristol, the government and NHS England set reduction targets for the number of people held in ATUs.

These targets were missed in 2019 and 2020, and have now been moved to 2024.

"It's not the correct placement for people with learning disabilities and autism," Ms Davies said.

"It makes them more anxious, and can make them worse because they don't know when they're going to get out.

"There's no clear direction, they don't get much hope.

"We had a good period of where he was settled for a good six to 12 months but obviously there was nowhere for him to go, so he had to stay there and he kept asking when he wanted to come home.

"We couldn't give him an answer, which made him deteriorate back to the way he was before, because he wanted to get out."

MPs marked the anniversary of the Winterbourne View scandal with a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday, initiated by the Labour MP Barbara Keeley, a member of the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

"It's 10 years since the scandal of Winterbourne View, when the abuse of people in a unit like that first came to light, and it is a complete failure of government to take the action that they pledged to do when that appalling abuse was revealed," she told Sky News.

"Why should autistic people and people with learning difficulties be treated this way? I want to show that they're not invisible, that we do care, and that we are listening to their issues."

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: "People with autism and those living with learning disabilities deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and have the best possible quality of life in their community.

"We are determined to continue to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities and autistic people in mental health hospitals and the reliance on inpatient care by investing in community services and supporting discharges with £62m."

Ms Davies said bespoke secure accommodation for her brother has now been arranged, where a team of up to 15 people will provide him with round the clock support, but a recent further deterioration in his behaviour has prevented his release from hospital.

Her campaign is supported by the learning disability charity Mencap which says restraints including physical restraint, chemical cosh and solitary confinement have been used in ATUs more than 100,000 times since October 2018, and claims those held in them are at increased risk of abuse and neglect.

In response to the criticisms an NHS spokesperson said: "Supporting people with autism and a learning disability is a priority for the NHS and since 2015 the number of people in a specialist hospital has reduced by around a third.

"The NHS Long Term Plan commits to reducing this number even further through increasing investment in community support and this is backed by an extra £25m this year."

Ruth Hill is chief operating officer at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospitals where Ms Davies' brother has been held under the Mental Health Act since 2019.

She said: "We are committed to improving the lives of people with mental health needs, a learning disability or autism," she said.

"We continue to work closely with families and carers, commissioners and local community teams and make every effort to support adults with a learning disability to live in the community with a bespoke package of care."