I want to put on record my disappointment that the Secretary of State tried to shoehorn an issue of this severity into an NHS policy announcement yesterday, and my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question.
The treatment of people with autism and learning disabilities in assessment and treatment units is nothing short of a national scandal. Six years ago, these units were described by the then chief executive of NHS England and the chief executive of the Care Quality Commission as a model of care that has
“no place in the 21st century”.
Seven years after the Winterbourne View scandal, the Government have not rid the country of these units or substantially cut their use. Indeed, as the Minister said, there are still 2,315 people in assessment and treatment units, including 230 children, and the number of under-18s has been increasing.
A Sky News investigation last week revealed that, since 2015, at least 40 people with a learning disability or autism have died while in assessment and treatment units, and nine of those who died were aged 35 or under. Some of the country’s most vulnerable people are being exposed to physical abuse in institutions that the chief inspector of mental health services described as being
“in danger of developing the same characteristics that Winterbourne View did.”
Can the Minister tell us why the NHS is still sanctioning the use of settings that expose thousands of vulnerable people to abuse, at a cost of half a billion pounds, despite the Government pledging to close them?
The transforming care programme has manifestly failed. What are the Government going to do to ensure funding is available for cash-strapped local councils to pay for community placements with care support for autistic people and people with a learning disability? The Times has revealed that the private companies running these units are making millions of pounds out of detaining vulnerable people in unsafe facilities, in one case funnelling £25 million into a secret bank account in Belize. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to immediately stop private companies that have a vested interest in keeping people with learning disabilities in these Bedlam-like conditions from doing that?
On Saturday, as the Minister has outlined, the Secretary of State ordered the Care Quality Commission to undertake a thematic review of assessment and treatment units, and he has ordered a serious incident review in the case of one young autistic woman, Bethany. Reviews are not urgent action, there are very many Bethanys trapped in seclusion, and 40 people have died in these units. Will the Minister tell us the timetable for the completion and publication of the CQC review and what urgent action can be taken to free all the young people and adults trapped in these appalling conditions?