Autistic people have human rights abused in mental health hospitals

MPs and peers have today (1 November) reported that the human rights of many young people in England with learning disabilities and autism are being breached at mental health hospitals. 

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has said that hospitals can inflict “terrible suffering to those detained… causing anguish to their distraught families.”

Harriet Harman, who chairs the committee, said: “It must not be allowed to continue.” Since, the report is urging a complete overhaul of mental health law and hospital inspections.


Charities supporting the rights of people living with a learning disability or autism have responded to the report.

Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, commented: “This damning report shows that hundreds of autistic people in England are being failed by the NHS and social care.

“Despite repeated promises from different governments, the number of autistic people reported in mental health hospitals keeps going up. Children and adults being held in hospital against their will for months and often years, miles away from their family.

“Many are forced to take medication they don’t need, restrained, and kept in isolation. If you’re autistic, being in hospital can be traumatic in itself – let alone in these circumstances.”

Sense, a UK wide charity campaigning for the rights of people living with complex disabilities and the deafblind community, have also commented that the report is “damning”.

“This damning report shows how government has failed people with learning disabilities and autism for too long,” said Sense chief executive, Richard Kramer. 

“A pattern of failing systems has led to gross violations of human rights, leaving vulnerable young people in inappropriate settings where they are frequently secluded or restrained.

“In the worst cases they are suffering abusive treatment which has a lifelong traumatic impact on them and their families.”


The enquiry was initially launched in January, hear evidence of “significant increase in distress and a worsening of symptoms for those detained, particularly where segregation and restraint have been used.”

Under UK law, young people with learning disabilities or autism detained in mental health hospitals must have necessary, appropriate treatment. However, the report findings show that this is not a reality for those in this situation. 


“We urgently need to see accountability and responsibility for tackling this issue at the highest level, and government needs to truly and wholeheartedly commit to making change happen. 

“We support the call for a Number 10 Policy Unit led by Cabinet ministers and a legal duty for jointly-commissioned preventative community social care for people with complex disabilities. 

“We need a long-term solution for the social care crisis which will provide funding for appropriate, person-centred care and support. 

“Crucially, the use of inpatient settings and the potential violation of the human rights of young people with learning disabilities and autism can be averted if local health, care and education services work together to provide integrated support at an early age.”


Since publication of the report, MPs and peers have said they have no confidence in government to meet targets reducing the number of people with learning disabilities and autism in mental health hospitals.

Demands for change have since been made, with MPs and peers calling for a special Number 10 unit to safeguard human rights od young people with learning disabilities and autism;  an overhaul of inspections, to include covert surveillance and unannounced visits both day and night; only detaining those who will benefit from treatment; and fully involving families in decisions. 

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