Mum hits out at ‘inhumane’ system that saw autistic son sectioned and 'abused'
Thousands of people with learning disabilities and autism who are ‘locked away behind closed doors’ in mental health hospitals, are being ‘forgotten’ amid the pandemic, a charity has said.
Patients are often stuck on hospital wards in England for years and are often over-medicated and abused, according to campaigners, despite continued NHS promises to move their care into the community.
Mencap said the national ‘human rights scandal’ must come to an end, as it revealed that most patients on wards in England by the end of February had been there at least a year, while almost 200 had been hospitalised for more than a decade. According to the charity, patients were also subject to more than 20,000 restrictive interventions in the six months to February, which included physical restraint, seclusion and drugging.
Mum Leo Andrade, from London, is one of many parents across the country who have fought tirelessly for their children’s release, claiming they have been mistreated, physically abused and neglected on hospital wards.
Her son Stephen Andrade-Martinez, who has severe autism, spent six years in different mental health units after he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act aged 18.
Leo said Stephen, now 25, suffered from unexplained injuries, was over-medicated, and stuck indoors for months at a time. She feared he wouldn’t make it out alive.
‘He was totally drugged up, he was catatonic. It was just horrendous,’ she said. ‘He suffered numerous incidents where he had broken bones and head injuries. They could never explain how his injuries happened. I thought, “my son is dying’” I thought he would come home in a box.’
After Leo’s relentless campaign for her son’s release, Stephen is currently living in supported housing but his mother fears he now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
She said: ‘He was always an outdoors person before and he had to go out every day, but now because he has been locked inside for years he finds it so hard to go out.
‘All the parents of children in this situation have mental health problems because of what we saw happen to our children. Our children were taken out of our hands without us having a say.
‘My real anger was, how in God’s name can this happen? How is the taxpayer paying for this inhumane way of life that my son is living? The system is so flawed. It is so hard to fight.’
The calls for system reform come following a 2015 NHS England pledge to shut at least 35 per cent of inpatient beds by February 2018, and move people back into the community where carers would support them to ‘live healthy, safe and rewarding lives’.
The commitment came after a 2011 episode of BBC’s Panorama, which aired undercover footage of staff at Gloucestershire’s Winterbourne View Hospital physically and psychologically abusing vulnerable patients.
But NHS England’s minimum target has been missed for the third year running, with it now aiming for a 50 per cent reduction on 2015 levels by 2024 instead.
The latest NHS figures show the number of people with learning disabilities or autism admitted to a hospital ward in mental health trusts in England reached 1,995 in February – a three-year high for that month. By the end of February, there were 3,465 people on wards.
According to Mencap, 28 of England’s 48 Transforming Care Partnerships – collaborative bodies set up to prevent people being sent to inpatient units – missed their 35 per cent reduction target at the end of March, while NHS England as a whole was around 300 beds away from meeting the goal.
More than a third of patients at the end of February were housed in secure settings – locked low, medium or high-security units in which patients’ liberties are restricted – rather than a general ward.
Mencap chief executive Edel Harris said people with disabilities are ‘locked away’ and are being forgotten amid the pandemic.
He said: ‘People with a learning disability or autism are being forgotten in this crisis – and nowhere more than those who are locked away behind closed doors.
‘The Government and NHS England must not use the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to let this domestic human rights scandal continue.
‘People with a learning disability or autism have a right to live in homes not hospitals, with their loved ones and friends around them.’
An NHS spokeswoman said supporting people with a learning disability is a priority, and that the number of people in hospital had reduced by a third since 2015.
She added that an independent group had been established to drive improvements in the care of people with mental health issues, learning disabilities and autism in hospital.
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