Human Rights and the Government’s response to COVID-19: The detention of young people who are autistic and/or have learning disabilities Contents
Last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report on the detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) and other mental health hospitals which concluded that young people’s human rights are being abused; they are detained unlawfully contrary to their right to liberty, subjected to solitary confinement, more prone to self-harm and abuse and deprived of the right to family life.
Now that institutions are closed to the outside world as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the risk of human rights abuses are even greater. Unlawful blanket bans on visits, the suspension of routine inspections, the increased use of restraint and solitary confinement, and the vulnerability of those in detention to infection with Covid-19 (due to underlying health conditions and the infeasibility of social distancing) mean that the situation is now a severe crisis.
Claims of unprecedented progress and reports of new taskforces and strategies from those overseeing the detention system sound encouraging but stand in stark contrast to the evidence we heard from mothers of young people who are detained within it during the crisis.
This report makes a series of recommendations which must be urgently acted on in order to put a stop to these human rights abuses. These include:
- NHS England must write immediately to all hospitals, including private ones in which it commissions placements, stating that they must allow families to visit their loved ones, unless a risk assessment has been carried out relating to the individual’s circumstances which demonstrates that there are clear reasons specific to the individual’s circumstances why it would not be safe to do so.
- Figures on the use of restrictive practices, including physical and medical restraint and any form of segregation, detailing any incidences which go beyond 22 hours per day and amount to solitary confinement, must be published weekly by the institutions. These figures must be provided to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and reported to Parliament.
- The Care Quality Commission (CQC) should carry out all their inspections unannounced; this is particularly important where any allegation of abuse is reported by a young person, parent, or whistle-blower.
- The CQC must prioritise in-person inspections at institutions with a history of abuse/malpractice, and those which have been rated inadequate/requires improvement.
- The CQC should set up a telephone hotline to enable all patients, families, and staff to report concerns or complaints during this period.
- The CQC must report on reasons for geographical variation in practice with resultant harmful consequences.
- Now, more than ever, rapidly progressing the discharge of young people to safe homes in the community must be a top priority for the Government. The recommendations from the Committee’s 2019 report must be implemented in full.
- Comprehensive and accessible data about the number of those who are autistic and/or learning disabled who have contracted and died of Covid-19 must be made available and include a focus on those in detention, for whom the state has heightened responsibility for their right to life.