A new casebook reveals people with a learning disability and/or autism are being restrained over 100,000 times in modern-day asylums

Thousands of people with a learning disability and/or autism are in modern-day asylums at risk of increased levels of abuse, despite the UK government making promises to change the system 10-years on from a major hospital abuse scandal.

A decade after a BBC Panorama undercover investigation at Winterbourne View Hospital, near Bristol, aired on 31 May 2012, a new casebook from charities Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) reveals that at least 2,040 people are still locked in mental health hospitals.

At times, people in hospital are always many miles away from their homes, meaning visits from loved ones are even more challenging.

RECORDS

The charities’ analysis shows that there have been at least 102,010 recorded reports of restrictive practices, like physical restraint, chemical cosh and solitary confinement, since October 2018 when figures were first reported. 

This is equivalent to one used every 12 minutes. 

Mencap and CBF say these figures are likely to be ‘the tip of the iceberg’ due to low numbers of hospitals providing data, despite it being mandatory.

When there was a shockwave of horror after the abuse of our sons and daughters was aired on national TV, we naively hoped that the promises made by government would change the system forever,” says Ann Earley, mother to Simon, now 47, who was at Winterbourne View hospital between 2010-2011.

“Yet, here we are 10 years on still having to fight.”

FAILED PROMISES

Ann continues: “For many, the promised support failed to come, not just for our loved ones, but for their families who were also left traumatised by the events. Our loved ones were left struggling within a failing system and some were re-admitted, commencing the sad, sorry cycle again and again.

“The failure to extricate people entrenched within the system is pathetic, but it is the failure to stop others being pulled in that’s even worse. 

“The dangers have been exposed, the failures noted, the appalling damage catalogued but still decision-makers and commissioners condemn our loved ones to a life of misery. 

“Still other settings like Winterbourne Views are built and their beds filled. There should never be the opportunity for another Winterbourne View to be created under the guise of providing care.” 

Kayleigh, 35, has a rare chromosome deletion and was an inpatient in Winterbourne View hospital. She now lives in the community with her own support package. She says: “Everything is better. I have freedom. I’m not being told when I can eat. I’m not being put in isolation if I’m a little bit upset. I’m able to do whatever I want.”

While some Winterbourne View survivors have flourished in their communities with the right social care support, many have experienced long-term side effects of being at Winterbourne View, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and meltdowns. 

Families live in fear that, without specialist social care support in the community to meet their loved one’s needs, they are at risk of readmission into an inpatient unit. Shockingly, some Winterbourne View survivors continue to be locked up in modern-day asylums today.

CALLS FOR CHANGE

Together, charities and families have written a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding action to deliver “real, enduring change” to stop these current human right atrocities happening here in the UK. 

Calls for change include immediately publishing the cross-government action plan on transforming Care, which had originally been promised in response to a 2019 Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report, and ensure it has a strong focus on preventing admission.

Additionally, charities want the government to provide ongoing support for people and their families who have been traumatised by the inpatient system; and properly fund specialist social care in the community to stop more people from being admitted in the first place and get those who are still locked in a way out.

“We cannot tolerate a situation where more people are locked up simply because they cannot access appropriate support in their community,” emphasises Edel Harris OBE, chief executive or Mencap.

“It’s widely known that improving access to early intervention and personalised support in many cases can be the solution. The Prime Minister must listen to the families of those who were at Winterbourne View and act now before more people are abused and lives destroyed.”

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