Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights publishes the findings of its investigation into the use of restraint and seclusion

On 01 November 2019, the Parliamentary Joint Committee published the outcome of its inquiry into the use of restraint and seclusion for children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism in Assessment and Treatment Units. 

This follows on from the BBC expose in 2011 of abuse occurring at Winterbourne View, and their more recent investigation into Whorlton Hall in June 2019.  A number of other ATUs operated by Cygnet Healthcare and St Andrew’s Healthcare have also recently been rated by the Care Quality Commission as inadequate and unable to keep their patients safe.

The Committee heard evidence from witnesses who had experienced time in an ATU setting, as well as from a number of families with a family member in such a setting.  They also received 50 written submissions.  The evidence given to the committee included extended periods of seclusion (in some cases years), excessive and lengthy restraints, and injuries including broken bones, black eyes and carpet burns.

Breaching Human Rights

The Committee found the evidence they heard demonstrated that unnecessary detention in ATU settings could breach someone’s human rights:

“What was clear from their testimony … is that the detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism not only threatens their rights to private and family life … and their right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment … but also their right to liberty and security … and in some cases their right to life”

The Committee also highlighted the need for families to be involved, and for their concerns to be listened to, rather than be treated as “hostile and … as a problem”.

Broken Pledge

Following the Winterbourne View scandal, the Government pledged that all those who were inappropriately detained in ATUs would be discharged by June 2014, and the Committee’s report shows this hasn’t been done.  As at July 2019, 2,270 people were still detained in institutions, a reduction of just 125 people in 8 years.  The report shows that over half of these had been detained in an institutional setting for over 2 years.  The Committee stated that they had no confidence that the target to reduce numbers detained in institutional settings would be met.

The report looks at how people come to be detained in such institutions and what can be done to avoid admission becoming necessary.  It recommends a review of the Mental Health Act as it views the current legislation as being incompatible with human rights.

“We regard ourselves as a civilised society with a respect for human rights. Most people would say we should take extra care to support young people and those who are disabled. But the brutal truth is that we are failing to protect some of the most vulnerable young people – those with learning disabilities and/or autism. And indeed, we are inflicting terrible suffering on those detained in mental health hospitals and causing anguish to their distraught families.”

Praise for the media

The report praises the work of the media for investigating cases such as Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall, mentioning specifically the BBC and Sky News.  I currently act for Holly, who spent seven months in an ATU. Holly spoke to Sky News recently about her experiences of being restrained and being in this kind of unit.

I previously acted for residents of Winterbourne View following the BBC investigation.  This Parliamentary report clearly demonstrates that there is still much work to be done, even though we are now 8 years after Winterbourne View.  I work with many clients who have been traumatised by their experiences in ATU settings and this report evidences what they (and their families) have been reporting for many years.  It is clear that a full review of the system needs to be undertaken at the highest level.  Protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable in society should be an absolute priority to prevent further suffering.

If you have concerns about the care being received by a loved one, please contact us.