Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:19 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 1:19 pm, 6th November 2018

I want to address the care that the NHS and social care system gives to some of the most vulnerable in our society. The millions of people who work in the NHS and social care do so every day with compassion and commitment to care for us all, but sometimes the system gets in the way, and when we see that, it is our task and our duty to change it. That is the case with the care given to people with some of the most significant and complex needs, such as those with learning disabilities and autism who are in-patients in assessment and treatment units and other mental health in-patient settings across the country. The care received by some of the people with the most significant needs quite simply is unacceptable.

With respect to in-patient care in assessment and treatment units and other in-patient settings, I absolutely share Members’ concerns about reported deaths, and I want to restate my Department’s commitment to reducing the number of preventable deaths among people with a learning disability. NHS England is ensuring that relevant investigatory processes have been followed in respect of each and every one of the cases it has responsibility for, and it is seeking assurance from all relevant clinical commissioning groups that they too have ensured appropriate investigation. As it stands, there is no indication that any of the deaths were untoward or that due process was not followed in every single case, but we are double-checking each and every one.

Barbara Keeley mentioned seclusion. Like everyone in the House, I have been incredibly moved by reports of the care for Bethany and by the dignity of her dad, Jeremy, who has described the daily battle he has fought to get her the best possible care. It is completely unacceptable for seclusion to be used in this way. Restrictive practices must only ever be used as a last resort, and we must strive to totally eliminate them. With that in mind, the Secretary of State has instituted a serious incident review in Bethany’s case, and we will act to ensure that she gets the best possible care for her.

However, this is not just about individual cases; it is about the system. Three years ago, the Government committed to reducing the number of people with learning disabilities or autism detained in mental health hospitals by at least a third. The latest information we have shows that the number is down by around 20%, but that is not nearly enough. Today, 2,315 people with a learning disability and/or autism in England are held in mental health hospitals. I want to see that number drastically reduced, and in the first instance I want us to meet the target of reduction by a third. I want to see everyone who can be cared for with their family living as normal a life as possible.

The Secretary of State has instituted a wide-ranging review into the inappropriate use of prolonged seclusion and long-term segregation as restrictive practices. He has asked the Care Quality Commission to initiate that review immediately, and it will be undertaken in two stages. Furthermore, he has asked the NHS to address this issue in the long-term plan that it is writing for the future of the NHS, and I know that NHS leadership shares our passion to get this right. We will also address the role of local authorities in the social care Green Paper, and both of those will be published before Christmas.