Secure institutions should automatically be barred from receiving a positive rating by the Care Quality Commission regulator if there is anyone within their facility who has been living there for more than a year, charities said today. 

Over 40 social care sector charities called on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, cross-party group of politicians, to question the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in parliament about the regulation of private hospitals (assessment and treatment units).

In an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matthew Hancock MP, charities including the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), Disability Rights and Sense have demanded the Government penalises inpatient units that fail to discharge people after a year.

The call to action follows the BBC’s Panorama programme detailing the long-term abuse of patients with autism and learning disabilities at Whorlton Hall in County Durham.

The signatories are calling on the government to instruct the Care Quality Commission, to give a ‘requires improvement’ rating to any secure unit where people have been living for more than 12 months.

They state that the rating should be downgraded to ‘inadequate’ if anyone has been living there for 24 months, and all new admissions halted until the rating has improved. The organisations behind the open letter believe this will discourage new admissions and prompt earlier discharge.

Dr Rhidian Hughes, VODG chief executive, says these units are designed to be short-stay places where people receive support but instead, as the letter states, they subject people to “protracted periods of containment and isolation”.

The letter goes on to argue that action is urgently needed because "there is no government policy that prevents the creation of more secure institutions. Inpatient units pose a significant threat to people’s safety and risk breaching their human rights." 

"Countless reviews and broadcast exposes, such as BBC’s Panorama on Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall, have made this very clear."

"In spite of this, public service commissioners continue to place individuals in these settings, ostensibly for short-term assessment and treatment. The reality is that people are deprived of their liberty in what are effectively long-term institutions."

Dr Rhidian Hughes, VODG chief executive, added: "Since the Winterbourne View abuse eight years ago, a raft of reviews and reports have outlined why we need to shut inpatient units and move people to real homes in proper communities."

"Due to a lack of investment for housing and support in the community by a succession of governments who have not prioritised people staying in homes in their local areas, people are still being placed in these units and their experiences are horrific, as the appalling practices at Whorlton Hall show."

"With every day that passes without firm action from government and the regulator, we are denying people the right to live in proper communities near family and friends."