Government must end the ‘evil practice’ of ‘locking up’ autistic people in mental health hospitals, lords say
- Peers in Westminster hoped the King’s Speech would have addressed the issue
The Government must stop ‘locking up’ autistic people in mental health hospitals, lords have said.
Peers in Westminster have expressed disappointment that the King’s Speech – given by King Charles III on November 7 – did not include long-promised reforms to the Mental Health Act.
They were hoping that autism and learning disabilities would be removed as conditions for which a person can be subject to compulsory treatment at inpatient mental health hospitals.
Currently, people can be detained for treatment on the basis of autism, while a person with a learning disability can be detained if this is associated with ‘abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct’.
The King’s Speech lacked the mention of the mental health bill, meaning any reform would have to be carried out by a future government, if at all
Peers in Westminster have expressed disappointment that the King’s Speech did not include long-promised reforms to the Mental Health Act
Lord Touhig, who is a vice president of the National Autistic Society, questioned why these reforms were not a priority for the Government, as they were ‘an opportunity to end what I consider a most evil practice’.
The Labour peer, who was a minister in the Blair Government, said: ‘The King’s Speech was an opportunity for the Government to introduce the Mental Health Bill, ending the scandal of autistic people being locked up in mental health hospitals, sometimes for decades.
‘By shelving the Bill, the Government has failed thousands of autistic people and their families, who are devastated that there continues to be no legal protection against unnecessary detentions, and I believe that’s an offence and an attack on their human rights.’
READ MORE – Pinched, taunted and even SLAPPED: Secret BBC Panorama probe uncovers ‘toxic culture’ at one of UK’s biggest NHS mental health hospitals
In 2019, the Conservative Party pledged that they would make it so ‘patients suffering from mental health conditions, including anxiety or depression, have greater control over their treatment and receive the dignity and respect they deserve.’
Plans to reform the 1983 Mental Health Bill included the tightening of the conditions of detention so that a requirement would be that otherwise there would be ‘serious harm to the patient or another person’.
Currently, a person may be detained for assessment if they are suffering from a mental health disorder which warrants detention for purposes of their health or safety or the protection of others.
The proposed changes would have also tightened criteria for the use of community treatment orders (CTOs) – which place conditions on people receiving community treatment after detention in hospital.
Under the proposals, CTOs would only be allowed if there was a risk of ‘serious harm’ to the health and safety of the patient or others, consideration had been given to the ‘nature, degree and likelihood of the harm and how soon it would occur’, and there was a reasonable prospect of therapeutic benefit.
However, the King’s Speech lacked the mention of the mental health bill, meaning any reform would have to be carried out by a future government, if at all.
A BBC report found a ‘toxic culture’ at Edenfield Centre near Manchester (pictured) which saw nurses humiliate vulnerable people suffering with mental illnesses
Sajid Javid, who served as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care from June 2021 to July 2022, proposed changes to the Mental Health Act last year
Currently, a person may be detained for assessment if they are suffering from a mental health disorder which warrants detention for purposes of their health or safety or the protection of others. (Picture posed by model)
READ MORE – Sajid Javid pledges end to ‘scandal’ of mental health act which sees autistic patients unfairly caged in psychiatric hospitals
Health minister Lord Markham argued that many positive changes can be made without legislation.
He said: ‘The Government is committed to implementing those changes and is looking for opportunities when it can to introduce it.
‘I do understand the disappointment that it wasn’t in the current legislation.
‘What I am committed to doing is making sure as many of those features from the Bill or the Act are actually implemented in terms of action that’s happening on the ground today.’
He added: ‘This year we are investing £121 million in community support for autistic people and people with a learning disability.
‘This will support reductions in numbers of autistic inpatients in mental health hospitals in line with the NHS long-term planned commitments.
‘To ensure that autistic people receive quality care in these settings, we are rolling out a national autism training program and have published guidance on sensory adaptations in health environments.’
However, Baroness Hollins, a professor of the psychiatry of learning disability, argued that the code of practice in the 40-year-old Mental Health Act needs to be changed.
WHAT IS BEING SECTIONED AND WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Being sectioned means being admitted to hospital whether or not you agree to it.
The legal authority for your admission to hospital comes from the Mental Health Act rather than from your consent. This is usually because you are unable or unwilling to consent.
The term ‘sectioned’ just means using a ‘section’ or paragraph from the Mental Health Act as the authority for your detention.
A better word is ‘detained’. You are detained under the Mental Health Act. The paragraph or ‘section’ number is often used so a patient may be told they are on a section 2 or section 3.
You may be detained if you have, or are thought to have, a mental illness which needs assessment or treatment which is sufficiently serious that it is necessary for:
- your health or safety, or
- for the protection of other people
- and you need to be in hospital to have the assessment or treatment
- and you are unable or unwilling to agree to admission.
The decision is usually made by two doctors and an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP). One of the doctors must be specially certified as having particular experience in the assessment or treatment of mental illness.
Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists
The independent crossbench peer, who earlier this month published a report on autistic people and those with learning disabilities being detained in mental health hospitals, pointed out that ‘so many of the recommendations were dependent on the code of practice in the current Mental Health Act being reopened.’
She branded the situation a ‘tragedy’ and highlighted ‘failings in adult social care’ as a major contributing factor.
Lord Markham vowed to try and make the necessary changes without legislation, because they were agreed on ‘the direction of travel’.
Dan Scorer, head of policy at learning disability charity Mencap, said: ‘With over 2,000 people with a learning disability and autistic people locked away in in-patient settings, the government itself has recognised that reforming the Mental Health Act is required to end this human rights scandal.
‘What they are proposing short of legislative change is inadequate.
‘We need reform of the Mental Health Act as a matter of urgency, as well as further investment in the right community support for autistic people and people with a learning disability, including the right social care and suitable housing.’
Sajid Javid, who served as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care from June 2021 to July 2022, proposed changes to the Mental Health Act in 2022.
Speaking to the House of Commons last year, he said: ‘Since the 1983 Act, our understanding and our attitude towards mental health has transformed beyond recognition. And it’s right that we act now to bring this up to date.
‘The Mental Health Act was created so that people who have severe mental illnesses and present a risk to themselves or others can be safely detained and treated for their own protection, and for the protection of those around them.
‘But there are a number of alarming issues with the way that the act is currently used: too many people are being detained.
‘They are being detained for too long. And there are also inequalities amongst those that are detained.’
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