Health Secretary Matt Hancock to face legal challenge over autism care

Equalities watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) takes the first legal step over the care of more than 2,000 people.

Today, 12 February, the EHRC has taken the first step towards a legal challenge of the ‘inappropriate’ care of more than 2,000 people. The legal action highlights the ‘repeated failure’ to give people with learning disabilities and autism the appropriate accommodation.

Human rights

In a pre-action letter to Mr Hancock, the EHRC argues that the Department of Health and Social Care has breached the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. The convention prohibits discrimination and protects the right of every person to their life.

The equalities body says the department has failed to meet NHS targets by not moving patients to community-based settings.

It also says it has failed to reduce the reliance on inpatient care of people with learning disability and autism.

In November, a report from the Committee on Human Rights found that the human rights of many young people were being breached in mental health hospital. The same report highlighted the high number of young people with autism or learning disabilities being detained.


An inquiry into the long-term detention of young people with learning disabilities or autism is already ongoing. After the report was published Mr Hancock said 2,250 hospital patients with learning disabilities and autism would have their care reviewed.

The concerning information was first brought to the public’s attention following a BBC Panorama documentary that uncovered staff mocking, taunting and restraining patients at Whorlton Hall and Winterbourne View hospitals.

One autistic teenage girl has already won substantial damages and an apology from NHS England after she was kept in solitary confinement in a mental health hospital.


The Department of Health and Social Care now has 14 days to respond to the letter, postponing legal action for three months if it agrees to produce a timetabled plan on how to address the issues.

If they do not agree to this, the EHRC will apply to the High Court for a judicial review.

The equalities body is also calling for an enforceable right to independent living for disabled people, saying it has developed a legal model to incorporate it into domestic law.

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