Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Scottish charities demand urgent action following BBC documentary on secure hospitals

Scottish disability charities have written to Scottish Ministers urging them to urgently address the critical issue of learning disabled and autistic people spending long periods of time in hospitals and inappropriate out of area placements.

It follows a BBC documentary exposing stories of disabled people locked into hospitals, far from home, and their families’ fight to get them home.

In the documentary, Locked in the Hospital, BBC reporter Lucy Adams investigated why four young men have been locked in secure hospitals for years. She met with the families struggling to get their loved ones home and hear the stories of those with autism and learning disabilities desperate to get out of a system they don’t understand.

The families featured found that getting a secure bed for their loved ones at a time of crisis was easy, but getting out of it was another matter. Their lives were then forever changed, through experiences of seclusion, restraint, violence and over medication, within environments often wholly unsuitable to their needs.

In her report, Lucy asked why 20 years after it was agreed no one should be living in hospital, why hundreds of people are still stuck behind locked doors, sometimes for decades.

Coming Home Implementation report

In response, Inclusion Scotland, C-Change Scotland and other Scottish organisations have written to Scottish Ministers urging them to urgently do more to sort this out so that disabled people can lead full and independent lives with or close to their families.

Sent with the letter is a submission co-signed by all the organisations in response to the Scottish Governments ‘Coming Home Implementation Report’ published in February 2022.

This report sets out the actions Scottish Government plan to take. However these actions include promoting institutions as a suitable ‘home’ and take no account of the very things that can support disabled people to live in the community, such as self-directed support and the Scottish Independent Living Fund.

It says that despite using the language of human rights, the report undermines these rights, does not take account of disabled people’s voices of experience and expertise and quite simply, does not go far enough.

The documentary also found that 15 people with learning disabilities and autism have been living in Scottish hospitals for more than 20 years.

Responses to Freedom of Information requests reveal at least 40 people have been in hospital for more than ten years and at least 128 for more than a year.

The Scottish Government says the findings are unacceptable and that local services must do more to get people into their own homes. It is investing £20million and has pledged to get most people out by March 2024.

Reforms to the Scottish Mental Health Act should be accelerated

The National Autistic Society said the powerful documentary shines a light on the scandal of 300 autistic people and people with a learning disability trapped for years in institutions against their will and the wishes of their families. It said this must end as autism is not a “mental disorder”, and as the programme highlighted, attempts to treat autistic people in psychiatric wards often makes things worse.

The foundation for better support often begins with a low arousal environment and hospitals struggle to provide this leading to increasing use of statutory powers including sectioning, according to the charity.

Rob Holland, Director of National Autistic Society Scotland, added:Hospitals are not homes but that has become the reality for many, with 40 people having spent more than 10 years living in secure hospitals, often when they were supposed to be there for a matter of weeks or months to be assessed and treated for mental health needs. Furthermore, many are “delayed discharge” – that is to say professionals believe they can leave but this is prevented due to a lack of specialist care and support within communities.

“The documentary adds much needed impetus to the Scottish Government’s Coming Home strategy which aims to ensure that by March 2024 placements within hospitals are only ever made through the choice of the individual or family and that those that require treatment do not become stuck in the system.

“To reach that goal, a huge amount of work is needed to develop appropriate specialist care and support within communities in Scotland. Furthermore, it is critical that reforms to the Scottish Mental Health Act are accelerated.”

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