The equality watchdog is ready to prosecute the government and the health regulator for allowing human rights violations of people with autism and learning disabilities locked up in safe units.
After The Mail showed on Sunday how people seeking help were held in solitary confinement for years, packed violently, pumped full of drugs and fed through hatches, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission asked the Department of Health and Social Care and the Care Quality Commission to explain what it did to end such practices.
The deadline for an answer was on Friday. If the ECtHR is not satisfied with the answer, it may take legal action, including a possible judicial investigation of human rights violations.
The equality watchdog is ready to prosecute the government and the health regulator for allowing human rights violations of people with autism and learning disabilities locked up in safe units
The threat of prosecution comes when MPs and colleagues finalize a devastating report that will likely condemn the Care Quality Commission for providing & # 39; a shield for abusers and false reassurance for families & # 39 ;.
The report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which will be published in September, will recommend the use of paid informers to investigate alleged malpractice, underlining the seriousness of the abuses.
It also requires that parents be given more power – including greater legal rights to medical assessments and placements – plus "real-time reports" about any disability or isolation. And it is understood that the report calls for patients in smaller secure units to be placed closer to their homes.
A spokesperson for Rightful Lives – a campaign group set up by families of people detained in secret units – said: "We welcome all measures taken to protect the rights and well-being of autistic people and people with learning disabilities.
"The continuous stream of scandals illustrates the need for action from all involved, especially the government, is far too late."
Dannielle Attree was taken to the assessment and treatment of a hospital where doctors told her mother Andrea that she would be there two days, she is still there three years later
The Ministry of Health promised to reduce the number of patients to 1,300 in 2015, but Minister of Health Matt Hancock has since extended the deadline for achieving that goal
Since the abuse of people with learning disabilities at the Winterbourne View nursing home in Gloucestershire in 2011 was uncovered by the BBC, successive administrations have promised to clear controversial evaluation and treatment units.
& # 39; Every day my daughter pleads to come home & # 39;
When Dannielle Attree was taken to the evaluation and treatment department of a hospital after she had swallowed a battery in a failed suicide attempt, her mother was told she was only there for & # 39; two to three days & # 39; would be.
Nearly three years later, she remains trapped and, according to her family, deeply traumatized by being locked up in solitary confinement, left in dirty clothing, forced to sleep on the floor without a mattress, and led through a hatch.
Her family says she has sometimes had so heavy medication that she could barely speak and her weight dropped to almost the 16th.
"My daughter has been imprisoned, but prisoners are treated more fairly," her mother Andrea, 47, from Kent claimed.
"Every day she pleads to come home. You would not treat animals the way they were treated. "
Her family attributes her problems to autism, but it wasn't until last week that she was finally tested for the condition.
After she had swallowed the battery after the death of her brother and parents' divorce, she was divorced shortly before her 19th birthday according to mental health legislation.
She was eventually placed in a charity called St Andrew & # 39; s, where her mother claims she was abused before being moved to another unit earlier this year.
"She has a serious mental trauma, but this would not have happened if she had been supported for autism early," she said.
The inspectors said last month that St Andrew & # 39; s flagship hospital for adolescents in Northampton was "unsafe" and would be closed if circumstances did not improve.
A St. Andrew spokesperson said patients were treated with & # 39; dignity and respect & # 39; and offer the most suitable and least restrictive healthcare environments to meet their clinical needs and risks.
The Health Ministry promised in 2015 to reduce the number of patients to 1,300, but Health Minister Matt Hancock has since extended the deadline for achieving that goal.
Meanwhile, figures released last month showed that the number of people with autism or learning difficulties trapped has risen to 2,270. The NHS figures also show that in March of this year there were 770 incidents in which children were physically detained.
In a series of devastating reports, The Mail on Sunday has revealed how people with autism and learning disabilities are locked up in inappropriate units where they are abused, forced to be stunned, and put into small, filled cells.
Harrowing stories showed how teenagers and young adults were removed against the wishes of families when they sought help, only to feel retired in safe units and even to be fed on the ground in solitary confinement. They include the experience of Beth, 17, whose trial – in which she was led through a hatch and became obese due to a combination of drugs and inactivity – led to a national protest.
Some families are silenced by legal jokes, while private companies that run the units earn up to £ 730,000 a year – but autism is not a mental illness, and detention in such places can increase the stress of such patients.
Our reports have led to a series of questions. Beth & # 39; s father, who sues the NHS for violating her human rights, said: "People in these institutions must have their rights respected.
"It is the job of the CQC to ensure that they are protected, but it has failed terribly."
A spokesperson for the EHRC confirmed that it had asked the Ministry of Health and the CQC for "more information about the treatment of patients with learning disabilities or autism in secure inpatient units." He added: "Everyone must have access to quality healthcare without inhumane and degrading treatment."
The Ministry of Health said it evaluated care for patients in long-term segregation and convened a group of experts to develop a better support model for people with the most complex needs. A spokesperson said: "The NHS long-term plan will further reduce the number by investing in specialist services and crisis management in the community to reduce avoidable admissions and allow shorter stays."
The CQC said it had responded to the EHRC's request for & # 39; guarantees and further information regarding the regulation of internal units for people with learning disabilities or autism & # 39; and would continue to work closely with the watchdog & # 39; as we try to improve the lives of all people using services & # 39 ;.
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