The House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee have just released a new report, titled “The treatment of autistic people and people with learning disabilities.” Below is the Summary – the full report can be found here.
The poor treatment of autistic people and people with learning disabilities has been a long-standing problem for the NHS and care system. A now notorious example of this was exposed by reports and investigations into the Winterbourne View hospital which took place in 2011 and the fact that these issues have not been resolved even a decade later is a scandal in its own right, quite separate to the original tragedy.
Although successive governments and NHS England & Improvement have focused on supporting autistic people and people with learning disabilities from Winterbourne View and many other institutions to live independent and fulfilled lives in the community, there remain over 2,055 people in secure institutions today where they are unable to live fulfilled lives and are too often subject to treatment that is an affront to a civilised society.
During our inquiry, we heard that this is often because of a lack of adequate community provision. Instead, autistic people and those with learning disabilities can find themselves experiencing intolerable treatment in inpatient facilities which has included being subject to abusive restrictive practices; being detained for long periods of time in facilities that do not meet their needs; and being kept long distances away from their family and friends. This is often because autistic people and those with learning disabilities are treated as if their condition is an illness instead of a fundamental part of their identity: the tragic result of this fatal misunderstanding is that they often do then develop mental or physical illnesses which are used to justify their continued detention.
Throughout our inquiry, we sought to place a spotlight on the needs of, and challenges facing, autistic people and people with learning disabilities. We have reviewed international best practice, such as the Trieste model of care, in order to identify where necessary change needs to be implemented. We have also assessed how the wellbeing of autistic people and people with learning disabilities can be improved in any setting, whether inpatient or community, and the need for independent reviews into the deaths of autistic people and people with learning disabilities.
Helen Whately MP (Minister of State for Social Care, Department of Health and Social Care) has made clear in her evidence to us that she considers the issues we are raising to be important and has shared her discontent that there remain significant problems with the treatment of autistic people and people with learning disabilities. While we welcome her stated commitment to addressing these problems, we have found that the actions taken by the Government to date are not sufficient for the scale of this issue.
As such, we feel it is vital that the Minister’s stated ambition is matched by the swift implementation of the tangible recommendations we have set out in this report. Our report addresses the following key areas:
• Chapter 1: community support; reducing the number of autistic people and people with learning disabilities in inpatient facilities; and the benefits of the Trieste model;
• Chapter 2: the use of restrictive practices in inpatient facilities and wider concerns relating to the appropriateness and continued use of such facilities; and4 The treatment of autistic people and people with learning disabilities
• Chapter 3: the wellbeing of and accountability for autistic people and people with learning disabilities including the creation of a new role: the Intellectual Disability Physician; and the need for independent reviews into the deaths of autistic people and people with learning disabilities