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Tuesday, 06 November 2018

Labour attacks Government on 'bedlam-like conditions' for people with learning disabilities

Written by Jennifer McKiernan and Richard Wheeler

Labour has attacked Bedlam-like conditions for people with learning disabilities.

Shadow health minister Barbara Keeley said the current situation was "nothing short of a national scandal" with patients being treated in a way that has "no place in the 21st century".

Recent reports of an autistic teenager called Bethany who was locked in solitary confinement and fed through a hatch, has reignited calls for the immediate closure of institutions.

The news led Sir Stephen Bubb to claim the Government had "ignored" his independent report into the 2011 abuse scandal at Winterbourne View, which recommended a dramatic reduction in the use of institutions for people with learning disabilities.

Asking an urgent question on the issue in the Commons seven years after the original scandal, Ms Keeley called for immediate action to "rid the country" of these institutions.

She said: "Can the minister tell us why the NHS is still sanctioning the use of settings which expose thousands of vulnerable people to abuse at a cost of half a billion pounds despite the Government pledging to close them?

"The Times has revealed that the private companies running these units are making millions out of detaining vulnerable people in unsafe facilities, in one case funneling £25 million into a secret bank account in Belize.

"Can the minister tell us what the Government is doing to put an immediate stop to private companies who have a vested interest in keeping people with learning disabilities in these Bedlam-like conditions?"

Health Minister Caroline Dinenage agreed the Government had a duty to act and has launched a review into seclusion, which is expected to conclude at the end of next year.

She said: "I share very strongly her views that there is still much further to go and now is the time to take action.

"The first stage of the review will focus on settings that most closely relate to Bethany's circumstances... This will start immediately and will report in May of next year.

"The second stage will report in the winter and will examine other settings in which segregation and prolonged seclusion are used."

Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative chairwoman of the Health and Social Care Committee, said: "Far too many people are ending up in these terrible conditions in secure settings because of the inadequacy of social care."

Labour's Luciana Berger, a former shadow mental health minister, criticised the lack of action and said the number of children in the units has doubled.

She added: "It's frankly a dereliction of duty and the minister should be apologising to the people outside of this House in this country that are detained in those assessment and treatment units."

Ms Dinenage, in her reply, said: "I don't see this as a dereliction of duty."

Conservative former minister Anna Soubry welcomed Health Secretary Matt Hancock's commitment for urgent action, but noted: "I have a constituent's daughter who died at the age of 25 having been sectioned, living in a padded cell, whose weight rose to 26 stone when apparently she was being cared for.

"Would (Ms Dinenage) agree with me that it's not just about money and how we better spend it but it's also about the involvement of families and a profound cultural change as well?"

Ms Dinenage said she completely agreed with the Broxtowe MP, adding she believed the institution described by Ms Soubry has been shut.

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